Virginia Refugee Fair Helps Sisters Take Challenge to Serve Locally

Contributed By Nikki Merrill, Church News contributor

  • FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA

Members of the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society assembled hygiene, baby, and welcome kits for refugees during a refugee volunteer fair on June 4.  Photo courtesy of Kimberlee Holland.

Article Highlights

  • Volunteers assembled 100 hygiene, cleaning, and baby welcome kits for resettling refugees.
  • The stake Relief Society president wanted to give people the resources they needed to serve.

“So many people want to help, and there are ways for everyone to help that aren’t difficult to find.” —Laura Lindsay, McLean Virginia Stake

The McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society hosted a refugee volunteer fair on June 4 in response to the “I Was a Stranger” initiative in which Church leaders called for members to connect with and personally assist refugees in their communities and worldwide.

During the three-hour fair, Relief Society sisters and missionaries assembled 100 hygiene, cleaning, and baby welcome kits for resettling refugees, while a steady stream of sisters also connected with organizations to find ways to help refugees resettle locally. Many in the stake and community also attended the fair.

The two northern Virginia refugee resettlement agencies had bustling booths: Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services and Lutheran Social Services of the National Capitol Area (LSSNCA). Other refugee support organizations also enlisted volunteers at the fair: Afghan American Women’s Association (A-AWA), Stop Hunger Now, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Tahirih Justice Center, Human Rights First, and St. George’s Episcopal Church of Arlington.

An estimated 60 million people worldwide are refugees.

Beth Fitzpatrick, a volunteer coordinator with Catholic Charities' Migration and Refugee Services, said, “Throughout the world, there is so much instability and a need to find safety and avoid persecution.” At present, most refugees arriving in the northern Virginia area are from Afghanistan and Iraq. Many are joining extended family in the area.

Donna Doll, fair organizer and McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society president, said many sisters throughout the stake were thrilled about the invitation to serve, but they didn’t know where to start. “We wanted to provide resources to give us direction instead of this being an overwhelming task,” she said.

The McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society hosted a refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Women from several churches and community organizations took part in the refugee volunteer fair hosted by the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Hygiene, baby, and welcome kits were assembled during the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society’s refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

The McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society hosted a refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Various community organizations hosted information tables at the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society’s refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Two women pause by an information table at the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society's refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Members of the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society assembled hygiene, baby, and welcome kits for refugees during a refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Toiletry kits were conveniently packed into a waste basket. Photo courtesy of Kimberlee Holland.

Members of the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society and other volunteers assembled hygiene, baby, and welcome kits for refugees during a refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Kimberlee Holland.

Beth Maynes desired to help the refugee situation, especially because her parents were once refugees themselves.

“When I attended the refugee fair, I felt inspired by the many organizations and people who were helping refugees in our area and around the world,” she said. “They came from different churches and different backgrounds but were all following the Savior's example to feed the hungry, take in strangers, and clothe the naked. And I now know how I can do the same. Many of the opportunities were things I felt like I could easily help with, like picking someone up from the airport, inviting someone over for a meal, or helping someone settle in.

Fair attendee Dani Lloyd had the opportunity of serving the only refugee who was at the fair. Upon entering the fair, Sister Lloyd was introduced to an Afghan father of a young family of five who arrived in the area six months ago. He had to delay taking a job for several months because of his wife’s poor health, but he recently found work driving a taxi. His wages barely cover rent and a few groceries, so he was very grateful to receive several welcome kits with basic supplies. (All other welcome kits were donated to Lutheran Social Services.) “It was very humbling to meet him,” Sister Lloyd said.

Many fair attendees liked the prospect of serving refugees alongside their families. The six-month mentoring assignment enables volunteers or families to befriend a refugee family. They help them weekly with creating resumés, showing them how to grocery shop in the area, teaching them how to use a microwave—or whatever it is they need to learn or do in order to transition into their new lives in the States.

Sammie Medina came to the fair with her 14-year-old daughter, Alexandra, who eagerly brainstormed ways youth could assist the refugee relief effort. One of those ideas Alexandra suggested to Catholic Charities is a Mutual activity in which young men move furniture into apartments for resettled refugees, while the young women decorate and stock them.

Sisters from the McLean Virginia Stake who served a supporting role of connecting volunteers and organizations, manned the three remaining booths at the fair.

The JustServe.org booth educated volunteers on the site’s mission and encouraged them to register and download the app in order to find volunteer opportunities—especially those related to the refugee resettlement effort. While JustServe.org is still in its infancy in the Washington, D.C. area, it is set to list service opportunities from the organizations represented at the refugee volunteer fair to connect eager volunteers to the refugee relief effort.

Erica Eastley’s booth, “Hosting a Welcome Dinner for Refugee Families,” built upon her experience with the project she found after the challenge was issued. Involving her ward, Sister Eastley hosted a welcome dinner as an unofficial ward activity at the LDS meetinghouse. Ward members provided transportation, car seats, a culturally appropriate meal, and friendship to refugees from the area. “It’s a really good way to meet in a family setting,” Sister Eastley said.

Laura Lindsay headed up a booth called “Volunteer Matchmaking: Finding service to match your schedule, family, or calling.” Sister Lindsay shared idea sheets for those who have a few hours during the day, who just have evenings or weekends free, or who want to serve with their family or youth group. “So many people want to help, and there are ways for everyone to help that aren’t difficult to find,” Sister Lindsay said.

Sister Eastley and Sister Lindsay each had previous experience working with refugees, so they were thrilled to hear about the “I Was a Stranger” initiative that was announced during the general women's session of conference last March. “For me, this was huge,” Sister Eastley said of the invitation.

Hygiene, baby, and welcome kits were assembled during the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society’s refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Hygiene, baby, and welcome kits were assembled during the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society’s refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

The McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society hosted a refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

The Tahirih Justice Center is among community organizations that participated in the refugee volunteer fair hosted by the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

The Afghan American Women’s Association joined with several faith and community groups at the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society’s refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

A volunteer with the International Rescue Committee shares information at a refugee volunteer fair hosted by the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Women find information on how to help refugees in their community as they attend the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society’s refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

A woman looks at information on how to help refugees in her community as she attends the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society’s refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Nikki Merrill.

Members of the McLean Virginia Stake Relief Society assembled hygiene, baby, and welcome kits for refugees during a refugee volunteer fair on June 4. Photo courtesy of Heather Martinez.

At the refugee volunteer fair, Laura Lindsay of the McLean Virginia Stake shares information with Kristy Wilcox, Alexandra Medina, and Hailey Holland on how to find ways to serve refugees. Photo courtesy of Kimberlee Holland.