Miracles by the Bagful: Welcome Kits Donated to Refugee Camps in Germany

Contributed By Greg Jarrard, Church News contributor

  • FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Sister Lisa Koy, left, and Sister Melina Grahovac with her baby at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center on the first “sorting day,” April 20. Along with Sister Nerea Plana-Garcia, they spearheaded the Frankfurt Refugee Welcome Kit project, which was completed Friday, April 22, 2016.  Photo by Boris Borm.

Article Highlights

  • Miracles happen when you reach out to unite church and community members in service to others.
  • Seek the Lord for inspiration on how you can best serve the refugees in your community or country.
  • Don't underestimate the impact and influence of small acts of kindness and compassion.

“They were happy to donate several boxes of clothing, but then when we explained it was for refugees, they opened the tailgates on their cars and said, ‘You can have everything else we have left.’” —Sister Rebecca Stay, senior humanitarian missionary

Three large box trucks left Frankfurt loaded with 1,061 “miracles by the bagful” for six different refugee camps in Germany on April 22, 2016. It was the culmination of a monthlong “welcome kit” project organized by three Relief Society sisters in the Frankfurt 1st Ward.

Melina Grahovac and Lisa Koy have callings to serve the young mothers in their ward; they often trade clothing and toys with ward members and acquaintances in their children’s play group at the local kindergarten. When they collect more than they need, they donate the extra items to local charities and social welfare organizations.

Sister Rebecca Stay, a senior humanitarian missionary assigned to help refugees in Europe, approached Sister Grahovac and Sister Koy one Sunday in March and inquired about clothing for refugee children.

They, along with Nerea Plana-Garcia, first counselor in the Frankfurt 1st Ward Relief Society presidency, went right to work making “welcome kits” for refugees.

“We spoke with our friends and contacts at kindergartens and other groups where we had swapped clothing and toys and asked them if they would like to help,” Sister Grahovac said. Due to upcoming German holidays in May and June, they set a date for April 20 to complete their project.

They needed to find donations, donors, volunteers, and refugee camps where their generosity would be accepted. They had to gather and sort the donations, bag them all up for delivery, and then find a way to get the items there.

Sister Koy explained that they originally set a goal of delivering 500 welcome kits.

“Once Melina [Grahovac] had contacted the different camps, we discovered that we would need more,” she said. “We were overwhelmed when we learned there were 927 [babies and children] in the six camps.”

The women felt that they couldn’t tell one or two of the camps they wouldn’t get any bags. In the end, they made 1,061 in total, “just to make sure that each and every single child up to 12 years of age in those camps would get a bag,” Sister Koy said.

The German sisters began their project more than a week before the Church announced the “I Was a Stranger” campaign at the general women’s session on March 29. Many involved in the drive recognized the same source of inspiration: the hand of the Lord. Time after time when the sisters called different groups or organizations for help or donations, if they didn’t get a positive reaction at first, they would get a call back later. Several private groups and local companies had a change of heart, especially when they discovered the project was for refugee children.

Sister Koy printed and distributed a flyer in both German and English, asking for toys, children’s clothes, baby carriers, backpacks, and duffel bags to be sent to the Europe Area headquarters building. By the time they started sorting, the basement overflowed with donations.

On the morning of April 20, the stage and the cultural hall in the adjoining stake center were filled with clothing and toys and other donations—some old, some new.

Baby bags held a body suit, a one-piecer, a hat, a toy, wipes and diapers, a blanket, and a towel. The kids’ bags included new underwear and socks, a shirt, a sweater, a pair of shorts or pants, a towel, a toy and pencils, a book, and a notebook.

During the sorting process, donations were sized and organized into boxes in assembly lines on banquet tables, then stacked on the pews in the chapel where they could be gathered by the “picker-packers” and placed in bags. For two days, the inventory was laid out by size and kind so that by 7:00 on Thursday night, the bags would be ready for assembly. Thanks to a huge turnout on Thursday, everything was bagged in two hours. Right on schedule, the three trucks were packed full and departed for the six refugee camps early Friday morning.

Sister Stay reflected on the number of miracles—large and small—they experienced in the last month.

“We heard about this group of ‘International Women’ in Bad Homburg—Americans and other transplants—who held an annual bake sale and clothing drive,” Sister Stay said. “They were happy to donate several boxes of clothing, but then when we explained it was for refugees, they opened the tailgates on their cars and said, ‘You can have everything else we have left.’”

A woman named Ria saw their Facebook post, called them up, and said she had some donations. “She explained that she had been collecting articles on her own for refugees for some time,” Sister Stay explained. “In fact, she had a whole storage shed full, including more than 1,000 blankets from Lufthansa. Now every bag will include a Lufthansa blanket.

“She also said, ‘I have lots of other boxes, but I have no idea what’s in them. If you can send someone out to take an inventory of what’s in them, you can have all of the children’s clothing,’” Sister Stay said. Senior missionaries spent hours sorting the clothing in those boxes and ultimately received 50 to 60 boxes of donated clothes from Ria.

On the first day of sorting, Ria and her husband came into the stake center to meet the volunteers. Sister Stay said that “they had never met people like Mormons before—they just love us. They even brought two more carloads of donations with them this morning.”

Elder Mitchel Bausman and Sister Yvonne Bausman, who provide technological support for stakes and districts in the Europe Area, were assigned to pick up and deliver donations that came pouring in, using whatever large vehicle they could get their hands on.

Some contributors jumped in without hesitation. A local technology company, Data Dimensions, acquired rental trucks and not only provided them free of charge but also paid for the fuel and provided the drivers.

The response reminded Sister Stay of when Moses and the children of Israel were commanded to build a sanctuary in the wilderness.

“And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun,” until “the people [did] bring much more than enough for the service of the work. … For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much” (Exodus 35:25; 36:5, 7).

Sister training leaders in the Germany Frankfurt Mission, Sister Tiffany Jeppesen, left, and Sister Erika Landeen, take a half day for humanitarian service at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center sorting clothing for the refugee drive on April 20, 2016. Photo by Elder Greg M. Jarrard.

Germany Frankfurt Mission zone leaders, Elder Michael Evans, rear, and Elder Robert Taylor, begin work the first day moving clothing to the sorting tables for the refugee drive at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center on April 20, 2016. Photo by Elder Greg M. Jarrard.

Sister Erika Landeen, left, sister training leader in the Germany Frankfurt Mission, shares a moment at the sorting table with senior missionary Sister Yvonne Bausman of the European Area Headquarters April 20, 2016, at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center. Photo by Elder Greg M. Jarrard.

Volunteers finish the last leg of the sorting, packing, and boxing outside the Germany Frankfurt Stake Center April 21, 2016, for the refugee welcome kits the night before the trucks leave for six German refugee camps. Photo by Elder Jeff Kirk.

Volunteers assemble and pack kits for refugees on the last night of the relief effort drive April 22, 2016, in the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center. Photo by Boris Borm.

Volunteers assemble and pack the refugee kits on the last night of refugee drive April 22, 2016, in the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center. Photo by Boris Borm.

Refugee drive organizers Sister Lisa Koy, left, and Sister Melina Grahovac pause with their babies on April 20, 2016, at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center. Photo by Boris Borm.

Pickers help packers in the refugee kit drive at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center on April 21, 2016. Photo by Boris Borm.

Volunteers pick up the pace as the deadline draws near to ship the refugee kits at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center on April 21, 2016. Photo by Boris Borm.

A volunteer hands over her completed refugee kits at the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center, April 21, 2016. Photo by Boris Borm.

A volunteer takes a glimpse at the progress outside the Frankfurt Germany Stake Center where trucks are being loaded with welcome kits for six different refugee camps. Photo by Boris Borm.

A sister’s contribution from the Frankfurt 1st Ward is a box full of booties, which were distributed April 22, 2016, to the refugee babies. Photo by Melina Grahovac.