by Shari Shea, Immigration Committee Co-Chair
The St. Ignatius Justice & Peace Committee is partnering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Baltimore Office to furnish apartments for new American families through our Afghan Refugee Resettlement Project. This project was initially conceived in collaboration with Catholic Charities and other Catholic parishes in the Baltimore area. That connection provided an opportunity to reflect on the spiritual aspects of our endeavor, reminding us to see in the immigrant the face of Christ.
The Immigration Subcommittee (ISC) was formed by parishioners concerned about the injustices faced by immigrant, refugee and asylee families and individuals. Today’s immigrants leave their home countries because of intense violence, lack of opportunity, economic, or legal injustices and persecution due to religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. In the fall of 2021, the lives of Afghans were uprooted and placed in grave danger when the Taliban re-established control of their country. Called by the Gospel and guided by Catholic Social Teaching, we acted to welcome the stranger and help our new neighbors establish a welcoming home right here in Baltimore.
The ISC reached out to our parishioners and partners, seeking donations of furniture, household goods, and other basic necessities that will enable our brothers and sisters to feel comfortable in their new home after a difficult journey. St. Ignatius parishioners donated an armchair, two beds with box springs, a bed frame, a television, two beautiful wool rugs, and a coffee table, all of which are now in the family’s new home. Parishioners also donated new household items and school supplies, with stuffed animals, books, and toys for the children as a special surprise for the three children.
Thanks to generous monetary donations from the poor box and cash donations through our Afghan Refugee Resettlement Project Page, the ISC was able to gift $1,000 worth of VISA gift cards for the family. These cards will off-set the cost of additional furnishings ordered by IRC, as anything purchased by IRC is deducted from the family’s arrival stipend. Via Father Jim, an additional $2,250 was made available to purchase small appliances, kitchenware, additional household items, linens, groceries, cleaning supplies, and personal care items. Upon completing the set-up of the apartment, we left flowers and an easy-to-heat nutritious meal for the family to enjoy on their first evening in their new home.
Many people gave their time and effort to the ISC Afghan Refugee Resettlement Project. The Logistics Group was led by our ISC co-chairs, Vonetta Edwards and Shari Shea, along with ISC members Isabelle Garcia and Kate Flores. Temporary storage space was graciously offered by ISC member Anne Lilly. This space greatly facilitated a project that was both unpredictable and fast-paced once we were given a move-in date. Other on-site support was provided by parishioner Nikki Sappington. Three of our children helped make beds and set up the kitchen. In the Jesuit tradition of “caring for the other,” our little ones reflected on what the experience meant for them:
August – “I really hope that other people would want to do this too, so more families like this one can have a home.”
Georgia – “I loved helping out Afghanistan refugees with setting up their house. I’m hoping that the family will enjoy the house that we set up, the house that they deserve, and that they like living in the USA now!”
Nora – “It was really fun to clean and decorate the apartment and build the furniture. The family didn’t have anywhere to live or money to pay for the things we gave them. I hope we can do this again.”
None of this would have been possible without the guidance and unwavering support of Fr. Casciotti and Justice & Peace Committee chair Candra Healy.
The family who will live in this home arrived from an overseas immigration camp just hours before we set up their apartment. They are a married couple in their early 30’s with three young children: girls ages 8 and 2 years, and a 3-year-old boy. Due to privacy concerns, this is all we were told about the family. In consideration of the trauma the family recently endured, and to respect their right to privately settle in their new home, our volunteer group did not meet the family and will not have future contact with them. For the next six months, IRC provides a trained case worker and other professional supports to help the family establish themselves as Baltimore residents, including school enrollment, health care and insurance, employment training and assistance, and application to any benefits they are eligible for.
We thank our parishioners from the bottom of our hearts. Your generosity now allows the ISC to continue to work with IRC utilizing our remaining resources to set up a second apartment for another refugee family. We will continue to collect monetary and non-furniture donations, should anyone feel moved to contribute. Or if you are interested in being involved in our second apartment set-up, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org immediately.
While we will not be in contact with the families that benefit from our apartment set up work, some parishioners are signed up to accompany and support another Afghan refugee family beginning in May/June through the IRC Family Mentor Program. This program is usually for refugees who have been in Baltimore longer than six months and have completed the basic government-related paperwork but have voiced a desire for friendship and social assistance as they become acclimatized to living in the US, and Baltimore in particular. We will provide updates on this mentoring project as soon as it begins.
Again, thank you for your continued support of the work that the Immigration Subcommittee does with immigrants and refugees. We could not do this without you!