By Ryan Coster, Logistics Specialist
“Safe, sanitary, and affordable” is the housing criteria mantra and federally mandated requirement for the resettlement team at the IRC in Baltimore. Although housing is relatively affordable, rent for an apartment or townhome averages between $900 and $1300 per month—a heavy burden for a newly arrived refugee who is unemployed and not yet proficient in the English language. The procurement of household supplies (e.g. bedding, kitchen supplies, toiletries etc.) adds hundreds of dollars in cost to each refugee’s limited household budget and stretches initial resettlement funds to the limit. Thankfully, the IRC is often contacted by community groups, interested families, religious congregations, students, and community partners who want to make an impact and help families who are starting new lives.
The Temple Solel Social Action Committee is one such group. They engaged with IRC’s Welcome Home Project which helps families save money by coordinating donations to furnish the homes of newly arriving refugees in Baltimore. The Welcome Home Project was an attractive option because not only could the committee use funds from a recently awarded mini-grant to purchase all new items, but many of their members have immigrant backgrounds themselves and are highly motivated to help refugees. The global COVID-19 pandemic caused some delays, but the IRC matched them with a house that would receive a family of eight, scheduled to arrive from Syria in mid-August.
The IRC’s Logistics Specialist for housing, Ryan Coster sent a supply list to group leader Nancy Fineberg who divided items among committee members to collect and tailor to the specific demographics of the family: parents with two boys and four girls. Nancy appreciated the group’s excitement in purchasing things they imagined the young children might like and be comforted by during their transition into their new home. Thanks to the donated items, the Temple Solel Social Action Committee saved this family well over $1000, money that they can now use towards rent and utilities—a critical support in light of the pandemic and record high unemployment rate. Of the experience, committee member Misty Hechinger said, “We are very passionate about creating good places where families can thrive and live a prosperous life.”
Collection drives like these not supply necessary household items, but new families sometimes benefit from things that the IRC is not required to provide--such as TVs, microwaves, extra shelving and furniture, or even matching towel sets and curtains. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Welcome Home Project set-ups remain the highlight for many groups whose members have fun creating positive and comfy spaces. Some Welcome Home Project groups have far-reaching networks and utilize several pickup trucks of donations to add warmth to empty apartments, converting them to inviting spaces. Thanks to The Temple Solel Social Action Committee, this new family will feel welcomed by the community. And having a little extra money for rent doesn’t hurt either.
If you are inspired by this story and feel that you too can make a difference in the lives of newly arrived refugees, please visit our volunteer opportunities page to learn about all the ways to engage, including the Welcome Home Project. Join us!