Rochester-area ministry prepares to help Afghan refugees - Catholic Courier
Esperence Batamuriza looks at items of clothing Oct. 18, 2017, at the Saint’s Place clothing closet in Pittsford. (Courier file photo)

Esperence Batamuriza looks at items of clothing Oct. 18, 2017, at the Saint’s Place clothing closet in Pittsford. (Courier file photo)

Rochester-area ministry prepares to help Afghan refugees

A few years ago, staff and volunteers at Saint’s Place in Pittsford helped resettle quite a few refugees from Afghanistan, mostly Special Immigrant Visa holders who’d worked with the U.S. Armed Forces or embassy as translators or interpreters. The number of Afghans resettling in Rochester dwindled and has been small in recent years, but that may be about to change, according to Isabel Miller, executive director of Saint’s Place.

“Either we’re going to be inundated or it will be just a constant stream of people coming in,” she said.

The expected surge of in the number of refugees from Afghanistan is due to the Taliban’s recent takeover of the Middle Eastern nation. The capital city of Kabul fell to Taliban forces Aug. 15, and news broadcasts since then have been filled with images of throngs of people desperately trying to board flights out of Kabul.

A significant number of Afghan refugees with Special Immigrant Visas are expected to be resettled in Rochester, although there’s no way to know in advance just what that number will be, Miller said. As of Aug. 24, Saint’s Place already had assisted nearly 30 Afghan refugees, she told the Catholic Courier in late August.

“Right now we’ve been told that many of them are at Fort Lee, Va., and another fort. They could be sent anywhere. The only way we will know that is when we actually get the calls. Those that are coming to Rochester, we are ready for and will welcome,” she said.

Saint’s Place, which is a ministry of St. Louis Parish in Pittsford and St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport, has been helping refugees since its inception in 1998. The organization accepts donated clothing and household items and in turn provides home furnishings and clothing to recently arrived refugees. Once they’re settled, refugees can take advantage of Saint’s Place’s tutoring program, which helps children and adults learn English in order to pursue education and jobs, and apply for scholarships that will pay for vocational training or college scholarships and such associated expenses as textbooks and laptops.

The tutoring and scholarship programs are life-changing, but refugees’ most immediate need upon arrival is for home furnishings and clothing, Miller said, noting that Saint’s Place has the largest clothing closet in the Rochester area. Miller and her staff began stockpiling donated clothing and other items a few months ago because they’d heard from Catholic Family Center that there may soon be an influx of Afghan refugees.

This stockpile will go down quickly, however, as more refugee families start to arrive in Rochester, so there is still a great need for donated items. The refugee families will need blankets, pots and pans, basic lamps, small tables and kitchen chairs, as well as warm winter coats, sweatshirts and hoodies, Miller said.

As it begins to help more families, Saint’s Place also will need more volunteers to help move furniture, Miller said. Strong volunteers will be needed to pick up donated furniture from donors’ homes, load it onto a truck or van, move it into Saint’s Place’s storage facility and move furniture into refugee families’ apartments. The organization’s volunteer moving crews currently work Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but Saturday deliveries may be added in the future if necessary.

Anyone interested in volunteering — either to move furniture or in another capacity, such as sorting donated clothing — should contact Saint’s Place at 585-385-6860 and ask for Michele Quinn, or email her at michele@saintsplace.org. Donations of clothing and household items are accepted Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Saint’s Place’s office at 46 S. Main St. in Pittsford.

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