Tri-Cities congregations resettle Afghans
Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland has found a niche to support and welcome Afghan refugees since October.
"Our church chose not to sponsor a family because we recognized there was a need to coordinate donations," said Marsha Stipe of the Mission and Social Action Committee and the Tri-Cities Immigrant Coalition.
Shalom's church secretary, Lauralee Sorenson, developed a spreadsheet of items and services to match people in the church and community with Afghan refugees with those needs.
Services offered and needed include furniture, bedding, household items, clothing, gift certificates, English tutoring, training to use the bus, or transportating to buy coats, grocery shop or go to a prayer service.
"Having the spreadsheet has allowed us to match items and services to needs without stockpiling items at the church or giving unneeded items to families," said Marsha. "Our members work with families as they need it, rather than focusing on one family."
People can email or call the church office for information. Potential donations are entered onto the spreadsheet and then matched with families' needs.
The first four families came to Richland in September, followed by seven families on Nov. 16 and four by Dec. 20. Two individuals came in February.
The families range in size from one man to a family of 12—a mother, father and 10 children. While the children range in age from newborns to 18 years, most are young children.
To date, 17 Afghan families consisting of 75 individuals have arrived in the Tri-Cities through World Relief, which had cut back its capacity and staff under the previous federal administration.
World Relief resettled a total 16 families in 2020 and since then has resettled more than 100 refugee families from many countries. Marsha said they have been hiring staff.
In addition, through its Mission and Social Action Committee, Shalom UCC donated $500 to the Family Learning Center for English Workbooks and Oxford picture dictionaries.
"These items make a difference for the new families in learning English, but are difficult for them to afford," she said. "The people receiving these books were thrilled and thankful. Each book has a bookplate noting Shalom's contribution.
Shalom UCC works with Tri-Cities Afghan Resettlement, started by Sabiha Khan, a member of the Islamic Center of Tri Cities.
Originally, Sabiha planned to collect donations. Then Shalom suggested it would manage the exchange of goods and services.
"Our members started by delivering furniture and items to newly arrived families," Marsha said.
Marsha has become acquainted with families by going on home visits with Sabiha, who is from Pakistan and speaks some Urdu. Over tea, they discover a family's needs.
One need Marsha discovered was for large bowls in which women can mix the big, round flat bread they eat at every meal. The church had big bowls it wasn't using and donated them.
The Altrusa organization donated $50 gift cards for each person. Marsha delivers the cards.
When families first arrive in the Tri-Cities, they stay in a hotel. One family was in a hotel for a month and did not have food, so the gift cards helped them buy food.
With a large Ukrainian population in the Tri-Cities and plans to resettle 100,000 Ukrainians in the U.S., primarily reuniting families, Marsha is aware and concerned that attention may shift as media focus shifts from Afghani to Ukrainian refugees.
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