New York church answers bishop’s call to assist refugees

By Linnet Tse
Posted Aug 15, 2016
The team of volunteers on moving day, with one of the trucks packed and ready for the trip to New Haven, Connecticut. Volunteers included parishioners and community members.

The team of volunteers on moving day, with one of the trucks packed and ready for the trip to New Haven, Connecticut. Volunteers included parishioners and community members.

[Episcopal News Service] When St. John’s rector, the Rev. Joseph D. Greene III, read Bishop of New York Andrew Dietsche’s call to assist refugees at the vestry’s Sept. 15, 2015, meeting, there was no hesitation. Vestry members and parishioners embraced the call. Initially interested in co-sponsoring a refugee family, St. John’s learned that Westchester County doesn’t have a refugee resettlement agency. The church then turned its attention to working to change that, while at the same time exploring immediate ways to assist refugees.

St. John’s was one of a handful of Episcopal churches in Westchester County that came together in November 2015 to form the Westchester Refugee Task Force. The group has grown to include over 30 churches, synagogues, Islamic centers, civic groups and individuals. Together, they are supporting resettlement efforts in neighboring Connecticut and are working with two refugee resettlement agencies to try to set up operations in Westchester County.

Easter Appeal to Benefit Pre-School Refugee Children

While St. John’s continued to work with the task force, a special opportunity to help refugees arose in Spring 2016.
This year, in recognition of the bishop’s call, the vestry selected a refugee resettlement agency in New Haven, Connecticut, – Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services – as the beneficiary of its 2016 Easter Appeal. Not only is IRIS the agency in closest proximity to St. John’s, but its Episcopal roots are strong: it was founded by the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in 1982, and it is an affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Episcopal Church’s refugee resettlement agency.

Specifically, funds were raised to support IRIS’s Early Learning Program, a program aimed at providing “school readiness” skills for the children, while at the same time enabling their mothers to attend IRIS’s daily English classes. More than a fundraising campaign, the appeal included opportunities for parishioners and community members to learn about the plight of refugees and the refugee resettlement process in the United States. During the drive, which ran through the seven-week Easter season, parishioners had the opportunity to learn more about refugee resettlement firsthand from IRIS Executive Director Chris George. St. John’s parishioners raised $32,000 to support refugees.

Furniture Drive

Frank Pierson not only loaded and unloaded furniture but also drove a 24-foot-rental truck to New Haven, Connecticut. Photo: Linnet Tse

Frank Pierson not only loaded and unloaded furniture but also drove a 24-foot-rental truck to New Haven, Connecticut. Photo: Linnet Tse

As the task force continued to work with agencies to explore the possibility of resettling refugees locally, its members became impatient and wanted to act to help refugees. St. John’s parishioners, Jmel Wilson and Wendy McFee, suggested to the task force that the church host a furniture drive for refugees arriving through IRIS to Connecticut this summer. They had no idea what the furniture drive would yield, or exactly how to get furniture to New Haven. The overwhelming community support – measured in both furniture and volunteer hours – showed that many others shared their passion.

Sixty-seven local families arrived in SUVs and trucks — some of them borrowed or rented — filled with gently-used furniture.  At the end of the five-day drive, more than 350 pieces of furniture filled the lower level of the church, including sofas, tables, chairs, bed frames, dressers and lamps — enough to furnish apartments for ten refugee families. More than 50 volunteers assisted in collecting, transporting, loading and unloading three truckloads and several mini-vans of furniture, including eight teens who are part of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Chapter of the Lion’s Heart, a national teen service organization, and a handful of Yale football players who helped unload the trucks in New Haven. One Larchmont resident, Greg Mouracade, the president and owner of a professional moving and storage company, provided a 26-foot moving van and an experienced crew to help transport 3,000 cubic feet of furniture to New Haven

“The overwhelming response of donors was gratitude … to finally have some concrete way of responding to the horrifying news stories and pictures. To know that what they were doing was going to directly benefit people who had suffered so much,” said Wilson.

“Several donors came into the room and looked at the volume of the collection and were visibly moved by the generosity of our community,” said Wilson. “They would ask, ‘What else do you need?’  ‘What else can we do for these people?’  There was a great sense of relief that we are finally able to help.”

McFee shared that it was particularly touching on Father’s Day, the second day of the drive, to see so many fathers bring their children to the drive and explain its purpose to them.

IRIS is one 30 affiliates of Episcopal Migration Ministries. Finding affordable housing and providing furniture is one of the first tasks an affiliate does to assist refugees in beginning new lives in the United States. This year, IRIS expects to resettle 420 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, the Congo and Eritrea

— Linnet Tse is junior warden at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Larchmont, New York.


Comments (2)

  1. Bill Wilson says:

    Are these Refugees vetted? As I’m under that opinion that the vetting process is non existent in some of theses counties with no functioning government. ISIS has stated publicly tihat several methods of Jihad include Islamification by immigration and high birth rates

    Teddy Rosevelt speaking on what is an American said (praraphrased here) the skin color, religion, ethnicity are not what matters that when you come here. If you have allegience to one Flag and speak English then you are as American as the person whose family came over on the Mayflower or a slave race ship for that matter.

    By that definition these refugees do not seem to want to become part of our melting pot but rather by force of arms or sheer numbers make The Us an Islamic nation governed by Sharia Law. That is their publicly state aim. Neither The United States no the European countries need such people and the problems they create

    1. (The Rev.) Michelle Boomgaard says:

      The United States screens all refugees before they can be approved to be resettled in the United States. In order to become legally-recognized refugees, people must be able to document that they would be harmed if they were to return to their homes. Beyond that, the US checks for criminal backgrounds and a variety of other things. It can take years for a refugee family to be approved to move to the United States.
      I am not sure what types of refugees you have encountered. The refugees I have known have come from a variety of countries, some Muslim, some not. When I was in seminary, I volunteered with IRIS for a time, and tutored a family that had spent three years in refugee camps in various countries before they moved to Connecticut. The family included an elderly and nearly crippled grandmother, as well as two parents and three children. A few years later, I volunteered with a Habitat for Humanity build for a different refugee family. The oldest of their four children (two of whom had been born in refugee camps, and were now in middle school) had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to getting a nursing degree. I remember that they asked what church we had come from, and were disappointed to learn that it was too far away for them to be able to visit via public transportation. I now serve on the board of the Salvation Army, and have met some of the Iranian Christian refugee children whom they tutor (they are incredibly enthusiastic bell-ringers during holiday kettle drives).
      In short, I would encourage you to visit, or perhaps to volunteer with programs that serve refugee communities. All kinds of organizations (Christian and otherwise) have reached out to welcome them, so you probably won’t have to look far. I believe you may be very pleasantly surprised by the people you meet.

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