If you've followed my Facebook for any amount of time, or at least for the past weeks, you know we ‘adopted' a refugee family from Turkey, for the holidays. Now I say “for the holidays” but they aren't Christians and don't celebrate Christmas so it wasn't a Christmas thing. It is something we hope to do throughout the year, too, not just in December. We knew nothing about them when we drove to North Phoenix to meet them at their apartment.
We're really thankful that we had so much help with these donations. A few online friends stepped in to help with donations and one even visited with us! Another family is bringing them blankets, clothes, and other necessities next week. Lifting Hands International told us there was a total of 91 families helped over the course of the week. That is amazing!
When we arrived, the family was very welcoming. We weren't sure how it'd go, because we knew they didn't speak English, so we were like hmmm this could get awkward. Just sitting there staring at each other? But it wasn't like that at all!
We muddled through a bit of conversation – not much but we tried – and then they insisted we stay for coffee. It was like 7PM and we all said “no thank you” because who drinks coffee at 7PM? But apparently we do, because we drank it LOL. When I say they insisted, there was no way we were getting out without tasting the coffee! haha She was young, but she reminded me of Grandma. You know, the grandma that is like “you sit down!” and insists you eat some mashed potatoes or something because you look too skinny. It was sweet.
For safety reasons, we couldn't take pictures of the family, but we did take a few pictures while we were delivering the gifts!
I'll talk about it more below, but ten years ago, we were this family. No, we weren't refugees from Turkey, but we had a rough time and ended up in a homeless shelter. By some miracle I worked my way out of there, and we moved into a low-income apartment. Several families helped us get settled, buying us kitchen supplies, furniture, and even a TV! I knew I'd always pay it forward, but we've never had the financial means to do so.
We talk about doing this stuff because we really hope to inspire YOU and everyone else to do something similar. Whatever cause is near and dear to your heart, send them a few extra bucks… knit them some blankets… do something using your special talents and skills. Do what you can to make a difference.
I'm so very thankful for my blog as well because without it, we wouldn't have been able to donate so many AMAZING toys! Super Wings by Auldey Toys (visit them on Facebook!) donated a ton of toys for the kiddos.
The International Airport was my favorite, and I think they'll love it, too! Honestly, seeing them happy over pillows made it that much more rewarding that we were able to give toys, too.
My friend, Heather, helped us bring everything in. She bought some LEGOs and other toys for the little ones, and we also had some voice activated drones – including the awesome Sky Rover TM Missile – donated by Auldey Toys. The boys are going to LOVE playing with voice activated helicopters!!
Think it's easy?
While most comments and messages have been positive, I did get some negative feedback about adopting a refugee family for the holidays. I've always felt led to help others, and I do all the time in my daily life. Whether I'm donating time, money, or training, it's just how I do things. Until recently, I couldn't afford to help in any other way. Don't get me wrong, we're still nowhere near middle class with our income, but our bills are paid and we have a little left over to help others.
In October, I donated to Haiti disaster relief through a few religious organizations, but in November I was looking for a non-religious organization to help. I found LHI, and when I read about the process the refugee families have to go through, I felt led more than ever to help in any way I could. They connected us with the family, but because they couldn't speak English and we can't speak Arabic, we had to guess what they needed. Exactly ten years ago, I was the one moving into a new apartment and needing furnishings. A few families donated to help us get settled, and I'll never forget their kindness.
Being able to pay that back in another way really means the world to me. When we went shopping, we bought the family almost exactly what the families that helped us had purchased ten years earlier. It was a crazy feeling.
Here's some info from the LHI website, that explains how refugee families end up in the U.S.
Refugees who get settled in the USA have been through the ringer. It takes an average of 2 years of interviews with the UNHCR to find out if they will be resettled. Once assigned to the USA, they must go through another 2 or so years of interviews with a handful of government agencies, such as the Dept. of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the NSA.
Once assigned to a city in the USA, 1 of 9 national resettlement agencies will help get them set up with the basics — an apartment with minimal furnishings (any furnishings come out of their stipend), food stamps, insurance, orientation classes, and a one-time stipend per family member.
In Phoenix, refugees tend to get placed in Glendale, since landlords there generally don't require a credit check and also look the other way when it comes to the state law requiring no more than two tenants per bedroom. That's why we have large families with 7 kids in one room, for example.
Families are required to wait 6 months before they can even apply for government subsidized housing. Once they do apply, there is an extremely long waiting list. Rent in Glendale runs around $750-$900/month, so most of their one-time stipend goes towards rent. Hopefully by the time they run out of their stipend money, they will have procured jobs and are self-sufficient.
This is where we come in: Resettlement agencies give Lifting Hands International referrals for families who especially need help obtaining furniture, getting settled, etc. so that they can save their stipend for other costs. We then collect donated furniture and have volunteers 1. set up apartments for incoming smaller families (smaller families = less money), or 2. fill in the gaps for all families who could just really use some help. Furnishing apartments not only saves them money, but also helps so much with the difficult transition to America. While America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, culture shock is alive and well. Everything is different. We try to make it a little easier for them by providing safe, warm, and beautiful space for them.
Want to help?
Live in the PHX area and interested in helping out? Sign up at [email protected]