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IRC's Warm Welcome equips refugee families for Utah winter

In October, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City held its annual Warm Welcome Winter Clothing Drive and provided warm coats, boots, and winter accessories to over 200 recently arrived individuals. In Salt Lake City, the IRC’s Warm Welcome Winter Clothing Drive ensures refugee families and individuals are equipped for their first Utah winter—for some, their first time experiencing snowfall. It also gives an opportunity for newly arrived refugees to learn what they need for winter and receive the essential items without the financial burden. 

A family of four, with their backs facing the camera is walking in a parking lot toward a bus. They are carrying blue IKEA bags full of clothing.

With immense support from the community, the IRC's Warm Welcome Winter Clothing Drive provided winter essentials to over 200 recently arrived individuals.

Photo: Marc Gardner

Caitlin Fellows, grants coordinator, has overseen the previous two winter clothing drives. Due to the pandemic, last year’s drive looked very different from the typical pop-up shop where people can come and select the clothes that they need with the help of personal shopping volunteers. This year, through careful planning and with the help of several community partners and a total of 90 volunteers, the IRC in Salt Lake City was once again able to hold the event in person at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral community center.  

A woman helps a young girl put on winter boots at the IRC's winter clothing drive.
Families picked out items to suit their needs during the annual winter clothing distribution event. Photo: Marc Gardner

Thanks to the immense support from the community, this year’s drive had no shortage of winter wear. “Throughout the month of September, we collected donations from community members, and we got an amazing amount of donations – we had two storage units full,” Caitlin recounts the preparations for the drive. To help set up, sort clothing, and assist people with selecting clothing, community volunteers and additional staff volunteers provided support over the three-day event. Caitlin says that it only took a week for community volunteers to fulfill the need for helping hands: “That was just really cool to see, everybody showing up and jumping in where they were needed. All the volunteers were super helpful even if they were only there for a short period of time.”  

Rajneet, a community volunteer, supported each day of the event, helping to sort and prepare winter items for distribution and pitching in as a Personal Shopping Volunteer when families arrived. Rajneet says that working so closely with people she didn’t share a language with was an interesting experience.  

“You have to find ways to communicate without using English. My personality is introverted so I kind of had to get out of my comfort zone,” she says. Rajneet says that she feels like the experience was like a “light bulb moment” in the way that it opened her eyes to the humanity in refugees and the various experiences that a refugee may have gone through. She was also impressed with her fellow volunteers. “Every person I met at the drive came with good intentions, they came with a purpose. I feel like you shouldn’t come in for your own agenda.”  

Volunteers from across the community supported the event, including team members from Cotopaxi, Patagonia and Bank of America. Other community partners remained essential to ensure a successful event. The Greek Orthodox Church donated the event space, as well as offering their tables, chairs, and clothing racks. Deseret Industries loaned additional clothing racks to truly allow for a pop-up shop experience. 

Two staff members of the IRC in Salt Lake City give instructions and orientation in front of a handful of volunteers at the Warm Welcome Winter Clothing Drive.

Community volunteers provided support with sorting and setting up the clothes ahead of the event, as well as assisting families to select their winter clothes.

Photo: Marc Gardner

Ahead of the event, one of the challenges the IRC faced was helping Afghan families access the event, many of whom weren’t familiar with the public transit system yet. With a few well-placed phone calls, the problem was solved with the help of the Intermountain Christian School, which donated the use of a bus and volunteer drive to offer shuttles for Afghan newcomers to and from the event. 

As the IRC in Salt Lake City anticipates welcoming hundreds of newly arriving refugees throughout the winter months, the left over winter clothing will be invaluable to ensure a warm welcome for each of them. Learn how you can offer a helping hand to our newest neighbors by visiting Rescue.org/SupportSLC »