More than a hundred thousand people were evacuated from Afghanistan before the United States exited the country last month.
As we continue to advocate for the safety of those who have not been able to leave Afghanistan, multiple agencies are welcoming Afghan families throughout the Puget Sound.
Our soon-to-be neighbors face the enormous task of starting over in a new country, culture, and with a new language. They need to find housing, jobs, and enroll their kids in school - to name just a few.
As these Afghan allies arrive in our communities, one thing is certain: Seattleites are eager to extend a welcoming hand. Local resettlement and refugee support organizations are flooded with inquiries from community members: What can we do to help?
A great way to start is to check in with these organizations. They are on the frontlines, directly supporting families. Many have created resource pages with concrete ways that community members can support current needs (see full list at the end of article).
Organizations provide services to refugees through a variety of funding methods, including donations from community members. David Duea, President and CEO of Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW), says that “the best way to extend a welcome is with a donation.”
Many places accept in-kind donations, though Duea notes that agencies don’t always have the capacity to store items. Additionally, Kristin Winkel, Chief Operating Officer of Jewish Family Services (JFS), notes that staff members need to ensure that donated items meet safety requirements.
For example, you may have some gently-used furniture, car seats, or clothes that would be useful to a refugee family. But does the agency have the capacity to check the quality and safety features of, store, and distribute the products? Check first! Each one has different capacities, and a helpful way you can support refugees is to coordinate with these organizations in the ways they provide.
Many agencies have set up Amazon wishlists to help donors meet specific needs. Winkel says that having people purchase items from these wishlists is “absolutely wonderful,” because staff members working with specific families know their individual needs and can update their wishlists accordingly.
Want to physically select new items for a family's new home? Some organizations, like World Relief, have compiled specific lists of items they’re collecting for new families. You can fill up a cart at a local home goods store and coordinate a drop-off at the organization.
Liz Nelson, Outreach Manager at World Relief Seattle (WRS), says that “community members have been supporting us in so many ways: financial giving, welcome kit donations, advocacy  coordinating volunteer groups  and coordinating gift card drives!” She also notes that an upcoming need will be new winter coats.
Way to go, Seattle! Let’s continue being generous and compassionate as we continue to welcome our newest neighbors.
Here are a few more specific ways LCSNW, JFS and World Relief Seattle say you can help:
An ongoing need is for volunteers to fill longer-term roles, such as host homes (providing temporary housing before refugees get into permanent housing), English language tutors, and interpreters. Some of these opportunities are short-term, while many are longer-term, and provide opportunities for people to develop mutually transformative relationships with the families they work with.
It’s no secret that affordable housing is an ongoing challenge in our region, and it’s certainly one of the largest challenges facing newly-arrived Afghan families. Organizations are constantly looking for affordable, long-term housing for families, and here’s where you might come in. Do you (or someone you know) have rental properties or vacation rentals, specifically in South King County? Check out how one community member helped fill a need by renting his space to a newly-arrived family.
If you don’t know, now you know: People who come to the United States as refugees are immediately work-authorized. Winkel says that “families want to work as soon as possible” when they arrive. She shares that one of the individuals they are working with started applying for jobs before they even landed at SeaTac airport!
So, where do you come in? Even if you don’t own a business or work in recruiting, you have a vast social network. Connect with folks within your network who may have employment opportunities. Many agencies work with local employers, helping recruiters and job seekers navigate the employment process.
Have other ideas about how to help? Duea says that agencies are triaging the inquiries and requests from the outpouring of community support. If you’ve tried to connect with an organization and are having difficulty - be patient, and remember that staff members are working hard to welcome refugees.
Though the evacuation and resettlement of our Afghan allies is a current global crisis, Winkel wants to remind us that “there’s always a need to welcome refugees into the community.” Global conflicts and crises are ongoing, and the United States resettlement program has been resettling refugees for decades.
“We anticipate many more arrivals from around the world, both through the refugee and asylee resettlement programs,” said Nelson. “As we welcome dozens of families now, we’re also preparing for how we can come alongside and support them for the next year, five years, 10 years. We hope you will join us in being good neighbors both through the moment of crisis and through the years of adjustment ahead.”
There will be increased and ongoing opportunities for community members to support these newcomers throughout the months and years to come - the welcome of refugees is an ongoing project. How will you participate in making our region a soft landing place for newcomers as they make it to safety and freedom?