As COVID-19 began to change the community’s day to day life, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City started to assemble emergency response kits. IRC staff worked quickly to fill boxes and bags with essentials for refugee families: food, cleaning supplies, and hygiene kits.
Working remotely, IRC team members called more than 500 refugee families to check in on them and determine their needs. Many had lost their jobs entirely or faced a severe reduction in hours. Some had lost their access to food and other basic necessities. That’s where the emergency kit assembly crew came in. With vital donations from the Bishops Storehouse in hand, the assembly crew quickly organized nearly 50 kits to meet initial needs.
“It all came together,” Kit Stebbins, a caseworker at the IRC, commented. “It became an organized process really fast.” She noted that Martha Drake Reeves, grants manager at the IRC in Salt Lake City, was a “total asset” in putting the operation together. Kit also commented that the underlying issue hasn’t been resolved yet. Although the IRC raced to deliver essentials and covered rent for refugee families, they’re still unemployed.
“It’s emotional. [Refugee families are] proud.” Kit said. “They didn’t need help and now they have no choice. [Refugees] show me letters saying they’ve been laid off with tears in their eyes.”
These circumstances have led to lots of collaboration with the Department of Workforce Services. “Everyone needs to be supported, now especially,” Kit said. “Utah is unique in that there are pockets of communities from all over the world and it’s ten times scarier for them.” From different cultures to new languages, refugees process even more change than the rest of the community. “The hope is that they’ll feel that the IRC has their back and they’re not alone.”
"The hope is that they'll feel that the IRC has their back and they're not alone."
The emergency kit team finished the first phase of deliveries, and now focuses on addressing additional needs as they come up. Salam Shawky, logistics & housing coordinator, feels proud and happy “because we are helping [families] that really need these kits, and I was part of the team that participated in building these kits.”
Heather Molyneaux, AmeriCorps member for education access, feels similarly. When she sees families excited, like when children rushed out to help Heather bring emergency kits from her car to their house, it reminds her how necessary and appreciated the IRC’s work is.
The project also gave the teams something to focus on. While normalcy started to unravel, the project helped people like Jennica Henderson, our mental health coordinator, to gain some “semblance of control.” She felt encouraged going into the project. “I am so filled in seeing our client’s sense of relief and gratitude for the help.” She commented. “I know it is not going to fix everything...but it does make an impact and help them know that the IRC is there to support them.”
“They need to stay safe and we care. Period.” Kit added.
Just recently, Kit transported a newly-arrived refugee to the doctor’s office where he had arrived with his own face mask and gloves. “Ms. Kit, do you want some gloves?” He offered. That seems to capture the moral of this story in these uncertain times.
As Kit said, “Everybody is looking out for each other.”
Since emergency response efforts began in mid-March, nearly 200 emergency response kits have been safely delivered to the homes of refugee families as they wait to connect with unemployment resources and other emergency aid offered for vulnerable community members. The IRC in Salt Lake City will continue to fight the outcomes of the pandemic to provide essentials to our refugee population, including supplies and rental assistance. We need to continue looking out for each other during these times—and you can help! Donate to our Emergency Response Fund today>