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Bringing the meaning of Christmas to refugees PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 15 December 2017 12:48

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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



In 10 days, millions of people all over the world will celebrate Christmas, with presents being exchanged throughout the day.

For some people coming to America, Christianity may not be their faith, but the International Rescue Committee is making it feel like Christmas as they settle in the U.S.

This year, for the first time, Garden City’s IRC office is helping collect some of the items necessary to help international refugees settle in Southwest Kansas.

“We’re calling it the ‘Holiday Giving Tree,’ not an angel tree, not Christmas tree, but ‘Holiday Giving Tree,’” IRC Development Specialist Bethany Shirk said. 

Shirk said the Holiday Giving Tree is an effort to collect donations of materials and household items refugees will need when arriving in America.

“When we’re setting up an apartment or a refugee that we are resettling and when we go pick them up from the airport, we have a list of things that we provide for them – things such as plates and cups and kitchen items, clothes, sheets, pillows – all of that kind of stuff to help get them started in their new apartment,” she said.

Shirk said the drive allows IRC to stock up on its storage unit to allow the organization to provide the items arriving refugees will need. In addition to three sites in Garden City itself, the Holiday Giving Tree has a location at Liberal’s First Presbyterian Church and at Satanta’s Dudley Township Public Library.

Shirk said FPC Pastor Kitty Lum is encouraging everyone, not just her church, to participate in the giving tree.

“It’s not just for their church members,” Shirk said. “The tree is up. It’s an actual Christmas tree. It’s up in their foyer, I believe.”

Shirk said the tree itself has ornaments created by a group of elementary students.

“The ornament has the items that we’re requesting,” she said. “One ornament might say pillow and pillow case. Another ornament might say baking pan. People can look at the different ornaments.”

Shirk said the giving tree has items of many different price ranges.

“It could be a $5 gift, or it could be a Dillon’s card for however much you would like to give,” she said. “There’s a lot of options for people.”

The ornament’s back side shows participants how to take part in the Holiday Giving Tree.

“The first step is to pick up an ornament,” Shirk said. “The second step is to just go purchase that item. The third step is where there is a little bit of choice.”

Shirk said people can choose to bring the items back to the giving tree in boxes unwrapped.

“We’re not asking them to be wrapped,” she said.

Shirk said another choice is to bring the items in a grocery sack, and if people do not want to take it back to FPC, they can send it to the IRC office in Garden City. That address is listed on the ornament.

Shirk said the tree at First Presbyterian is up right now and has been up for a couple of weeks. It will stay up, she said, likely through Jan. 7.

With this being the first year of the project, Shirk said IRC’s goal was to have five giving tree sites, a target which they met, and while there likely will be no more sites added to this year’s list, more could be considered for future projects.

“Next year, I would love to have more sites in Liberal,” she said. “I would definitely want to try to get a site in Dodge City next year. Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal are the three cities in Southwest Kansas where we directly resettle newly-arrived refugees.”

Shirk invited those would like to take part to reach her at 620-805-5350.

“But at this point, we’re just kind of moving forward with the campaign,” she said. “We’re not still doing a lot of outreach to try to get new sites for this year.”

Shirk said Lum has been supportive of IRC and its work with refugees.

“She just wanted their church to be a place where all community members could come participate in this campaign, which is an effort to serve our newest neighbors – the refugees who are moving to Liberal who are joining friends,” she said. “She is open for the whole community to come in and participate.”

Shirk said drives such as the Holiday Giving Tree help the IRC with items needed for refugees, as the organization has small amount of funds to help them start a new life in America.

“If we can have some of these household items donated to them, that prevents us from having to buy those things, which even further reduces our budget,” she said. “Also, it allows the refugees to save up part of their first paycheck to actually initiate a culture of savings, to open a bank account.”

Shirk said IRC has a storage unit at Garden City’s Garden Valley Church, and she added people will donate items to the cause, including bigger items like couches dining room tables to smaller items such as dish soap.

“All of these things are needed and are important to us,” she said. “We then store those in Garden Valley Church. When we get word that we are going to be resettling a new refugee, we have a group of volunteers who help us set up apartments.”

Shirk said the volunteers take the list of items to the storage unit to get what is needed for the refugees.

“They’re going to go into the storage unit, and they’re going to gather all the things that they need and go to the apartment and put the plates in the cupboard, put the dish soap on the sink and make the bed, put the pillow cases on and do all of that work so that when we pick up the refugees from the airport, we can drive them directly to their new home,” she said. “It’s set up for them. It’s just a way to show that they are welcome here and that the community’s excited to have them as part of our home.”

Shirk said specific items are put on the giving tree that IRC is in demand for in its storage unit.

“We do not put anything on there that we will not use,” she said. “We went through our storage unit and said of the things that we’re required to give to refugees, where are we falling short?”

Shirk said IRC is particularly needing things like sheet sets and trash cans, but all items on the tree are welcome.

IRC is one of nine refugee resettlement agencies that contracts with the U.S. government and its official refugee admissions program. As such, Shirk said the agency has a set criteria of things required for refugee case management, but also housing.

“We have to make sure that the apartments and houses that we’re putting our clients in meet certain safety requirements set for us by the government,” she said. “Also, we have that list of items that comes from our contract with the government that says each refugee has to have X, Y and Z. That’s that list of items that we’re operating from, and those are the items that are on the giving tree this year.”

Shirk said IRC officials want everyone to tap into the giving spirit with the Holiday Giving Tree whether they celebrate Christmas or not.

“We can all kind of feel that sense of giving in the air this time of year,” she said. “We just kind of wanted to tap into that, as well as just give our community a way to give.”

Shirk said IRC is expecting refugees to arrive in Southwest Kansas, and having the supplies needed in the storage unit allows volunteers to access those items be ready to set up a refugee’s life when needed.

Through projects such as the Holiday Giving Tree, Shirk said she also hopes people will come to know what the agency is and does, particularly in Southwest Kansas.

“We are still fairly new to the region. Our office opened here in 2014,” she said. “I think there’s still a lot of people who don’t know what our organization does, or they might just know the IRC works with refugees. They might not know much more than that. We’re hoping to just get our name out in the community a little bit more for people to recognize what we do and to hopefully be curious about us and want to learn more.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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