FAIRPORT — Last year, Saint’s Place provided clothing for 1,250 refugees who were in the process of resettling in the Rochester region. This year, the organization expects to clothe a much smaller number of recent arrivals — between 400 and 500, according to estimates from Catholic Family Center, which settles the refugees.
This dramatic decrease in the number of refugees resettled is a result of several actions taken by President Donald Trump to temporarily suspend the nation’s Refugee Admissions Program and to lower the nation’s refugee admissions ceiling for the 2018 fiscal year.
“Because of the executive ban, the number of refugees that we had been taking care of has been severely cut,” explained Isabel Miller, executive director of Saint’s Place.
That doesn’t mean Saint’s Place’s five staff members and 150 volunteers have been resting on their laurels, however. Instead, they’ve turned their attention to the needs of refugees who are already living in the Rochester area, Miller said.
“In the past we were so inundated with newly arriving refugees that we could only provide a small amount of ongoing assistance to those previously settled here,” she said
Saint’s Place will continue to serve any refugees that arrive in the Rochester area, as it has since its founding in 1998, Miller said. For nearly two decades the organization has provided clothing, linens, home furnishings, new beds and one-to-one tutoring services for the thousands of refugees who’ve resettled in Rochester, and that won’t change, she said.
What is different, she added, is that every other Tuesday, 30 refugee students from the Rochester International Academy are bused to Saint’s Place’s clothing closet on the grounds of St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport. There the students are paired up with volunteers who help them “shop” for clothing, which they will be given at no charge.
Notes will be placed in the students’ backpacks, asking their parents what kinds of household furnishings they lack, and Saint’s Place volunteers will make arrangements to get those items to the families that need them. These refugee families are working hard to obtain the American dream, but sometimes they need some help, Miller said.
“They’re still really trying to make a living. If they’re struggling, we can help them,” she said.
The clothing closet is probably a familiar place for many of the Rochester International Academy students. Whenever Catholic Family Center resettles a refugee, they try to bring that individual to the clothing closet within the first three days after his or her arrival, Miller said. At the clothing closet, which is located in the former St. John of Rochester School, volunteers help them select about a year’s worth of clothes.
“The most important thing is they get to pick their clothes, always under the eyes of the (volunteer), because we want to make sure it’s warm and we want to make sure it’s appropriate,” Miller said. “We never give a refugee anything that’s torn, stained, ripped or inappropriate.”
The clothes that fill the racks and shelves in the clothing closet’s seven rooms all have been donated by local individuals. Every morning volunteers drive a truck filled with donated clothing and household items over to the clothing closet, where more volunteers quickly sort the clothing and place it on the appropriate racks before the refugees arrive.
Other volunteers, meanwhile, use a two-page checklist to pull together an entire table full of furnishings for the refugee family’s apartment, including everything from lamps to dishes to baby toys, if necessary. And over at Saint’s Place’s headquarters at 46 S. Main St. in Pittsford, another volunteer meticulously folds piles and piles of sheets, towels, blankets and pillowcases. Every man, woman and child gets his or her own large bag full of these linens, said Mary Ann Wiener, who volunteers to fold and prepackage the linens four days a week.
“That bag is theirs. It’s the only thing they’ve probably possessed in a long time,” Wiener said.
Having their own possessions gives the refugees a sense of dignity, which is one of the goals of all of Saint’s Place’s volunteers, said Rose McMahon, director of the clothing closet. The volunteers, for their part, enjoy the knowledge that they are making a positive difference in people’s lives each and every day, Miller added.
“It’s not just lip service. We’re giving a coat to a man who’s freezing. We’re giving pots and pans to a mother so she can cook,” she said.