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How to help welcome incoming refugee families and individuals

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:53 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - As the Wausau area prepares to welcome another wave of refugees to the community, they are asking for the community’s support.

Margaret Pagoria, the program coordinator for New Beginnings for Refugees said there is a lot of preparation that has to be done ahead of refugees arriving so things are ready for individuals and families when they get into their new homes. That includes finding and securing housing they will be able to rent, fully furnishing those homes, supplying them with basic living items and culturally appropriate foods, and having the people supports there to help welcome and transport them to their new homes. For a full list, including what they are not accepting, click here.

She said their organization and the staff at the refugee resettlement agency, Ethiopian Community Development Council have been able to catch their breath after receiving the first two families two weeks ago, but over the next couple of weeks, they will be welcoming about seven times that amount.

“We have four -- what we call units who are actually individuals and three of them have requested to come together.”

Whether they forged a friendship while waiting to be resettled from the safe haven base, or knew each other in Afghanistan, she said it helps their housing search and supply needs to have them living together. She said it also could provide some social support to have individuals who came from similar experiences as they grow into their new lives in central Wisconsin.

They frequently need large items, particularly beds. Specifically, she said they are only accepting queen- and twin-sized beds -- not full for inventory purposes -- and new, unused mattresses. Most other furniture that would be in a home, like dining and living room sets, are also requested.

“We do ask people that if it’s a used item, to please consider the condition; that, you know, the intension is for these to be, you know, as long-term of housing options as possible. So, we’re very dedicated to creating very welcoming and clean homes to, you know, help our families feel settled and welcomed.”

Pagoria expressed the outpouring of support and generosity from the community has been heartwarming.

“That said, within a matter of weeks, this site will be emptied, which is really exciting; that’s the whole point. Everything that people have brought in is going to get put to good use.”

One of the things they are not accepting at this time is clothing, with the exception of new or lightly used winter gear like coats, boots, gloves, hats, and snow pants. That is partly due to a lack of available storage. They currently have a few items per gender and age to cover some of those needs.

“We’re finding that, for example, the women, there’s a very strong request for sewing machines and a lot of the clothing that we’re offering, you know, isn’t culturally appropriate. And so, what the women are doing and what they were doing at these safe-haven bases is they were creating their own clothing.”

She said they told her stories of there being one sewing machine available at the bases, then more were purchased and there were still waiting lists for people to use them.

“The things the women were sewing are just, you know, really inspiring and it’s a really nice way for them to be doing something that feels fulfilling and enriching. It’s a little bit beyond those, you know, core needs and it’s just getting at some creativity and something that’s making them feel like themselves.”

Whitewater Music Hall is providing the space for New Beginnings to store the small item donations, but any questions should be directed to New Beginnings for Refugees. Hours to drop off the small items at that space are Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Large items are stored at the former J.C. Penney location, but people are required to text 715-301-9719 with a picture of the item to have it approved for acceptance. The hours to accept those items are from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15, or by appointment as both these donation sites are run by volunteers.

“We understand people are being generous with their time and their materials and so, what we try so hard to avoid is somebody haul a big piece of furniture down only to get rejected by our team,” Pagoria explained. “We just want to value that people are going out of their way and being generous, so we try our best to make it as easy as possible.”

They are also accepting monetary donations to help them fill in the gaps. For those looking to donate their time and talent, Pagoria said they are looking for people to help staff the donation sites and organize donations.

For those who want to be involved, but do not have the ability to make a long-term time commitment, you can sign up to be part of a greeting team. Greeting teams need to have a roughly two-week period of commitment to be as available as their schedule will allow in order to help welcome and transport people from the airport, take the donations to set up the new homes ahead of their arrival, and help with any of the little last-minute needs and adjustments of individuals and families like a trip to the grocery store.

To help with either of those efforts or find out more ways to help, click here, or send them a message on their Facebook page. They are also in great need of landlords who are willing to rent to refugees. To learn about the opportunities and supports for landlords, click here.

For those interested in a longer-term commitment, ECDC is looking for more people to join co-sponsor teams, which is made up of seven people for a nine-month commitment. Those teams work to support the families and individuals more directly as they work to become self-sufficient. Click here to learn more information and sign up.

To learn more about community education events, click here.

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