By Amy Lefkof
By chance, Temple Beth El (TBE) member Samantha Foodman’s husband, Adam, owns a huge truck. That truck proved critical to Foodman’s induction into the world of refugee resettlement. In late fall of 2021, TBE sent out an all-points bulletin to its congregants listing various ways to help Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency (CRRA), the local affiliate of HIAS (formerly, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), including a request for a truck to haul furniture to apartments for newly arrived Afghans. Enter Adam, Samantha, their three teenage boys, and a visiting house guest. After they helped haul furniture and set up an apartment, Foodman was asked if she could drive a few Afghans to an English language assessment and maybe on another day take that family grocery shopping. That Afghan family of seven, with children ranging in ages from 7 to 21, has now become a second family to Foodman. They’ve played soccer together and shared video games. The Foodmans were dinner guests at the house of their new Afghan friends (a house that, incidentally, is being rented to them by Temple Israel).
Since October 2021, CRRA, has received 105 Afghans who were evacuated out of Afghanistan in August. Approximately 70% of these Afghans are now housed in permanent housing. Family units range from four single men who will live as roommates to larger families of five or more. Volunteers prepare culturally specific hot meals for new arrivals, pick up donated furniture, and set up apartments complete with dishes, linens, toiletries, and furniture.
Betsy House, co-chair of the Income and Inequality Committee at TBE, which stepped up to assist with Afghan resettlement, reflected on how she accompanied CRRA staffer Annesley Banks to five Jewish homes in one day to pick up furniture donations: “CRRA is not Two Men and a Truck! It uses volunteers — some age 55 and older.” In addition to furniture, supplies needed include: shaving cream, umbrellas, bath mats, fire extinguishers, liquid hand soap, and can openers.
And in another effort to welcome Afghans to their new homes, Temple Israel’s Social Action group, chaired by Jonathan and Tess Berger, participated in a Greater Charlotte Community initiative welcoming Afghan Allies and Refugees to their new homes by providing 20 “welcome tea baskets.”
In the last six months, in addition to resettling Afghan evacuees, CRRA has received 71 refugees from many other countries, including Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Burma, Central African Republic, Congo, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Welcoming so many Afghan evacuees in such a short period while simultaneously resettling refugees from so many other countries, has been a Herculean task, especially given Charlotte’s affordable housing shortage. “We at CRRA really appreciate the outpouring of support for Afghan evacuees in recent months,” said Marsha Hirsch, executive director of CRRA, adding, “however, we still need two more rental houses or three-bedroom apartments for two larger Afghan families who are in temporary housing but are ready to sign a lease and move into permanent housing.” Six members of the Jewish community have stepped forward to serve as guarantors on leases if that proves necessary, and the Jewish Community Refugee Initiative (JCRI) raised close to $40,000 for CRRA’s Afghan Emergency Fund. To assist with volunteering, donations, or housing, please visit CRRA’s website or contact CRRA Donation and Volunteer coordinator Annsley Banks at Annsley.email@example.com.
Lindsay LaPlante is executive director of Refugee Support Services (RSS), an agency that provides refugees with many programs, including classes that promote self-sufficiency (e.g., financial literacy, family literacy, first-aid), and a walk-up help center to assist with understanding bills and communication with schools. RSS also has a Fruitful Friend program that pairs refugee families with American friends, who act much like the Foodman family mentioned at the beginning of this article, building lasting relationships that enhance the lives of all parties involved. RSS requires Fruitful Friends go through a general volunteer onboarding process (application, completion of a Refugee 101 session, and a background check).
For information, visit www.refugeesupportservices.org.
Laplante implores members of the Charlotte community to understand that delays that some Afghan evacuees have faced in receiving permanent housing and necessary documentation (e.g., SNAP, Medicaid and healthcare, and employment authorization documents) is part and parcel of the rushed manner in which 70,000 people were put on planes and brought to the United States and that “everyone is working through an established process as best they can at the moment.” LaPlante expressed frustration with a recent Charlotte Observer article that was critical of Catholic Charities (the other local resettlement agency in Charlotte, which have agreed to resettle over 200 Afghan evacuees) instead of noting the need for systemic advocacy work in the area of affordable housing and health-care: “I have been working in refugee resettlement in Charlotte for 14 years, and people have always been moved into the same unacceptable living conditions because roaches, bed bugs, and faulty appliances are included in the rent at that price range in the City of Charlotte. There are no other options. If we believe it to be unacceptable for these Afghan evacuees, what about everyone who came before them and everyone who will follow afterward, immigrant or otherwise?”
Rabbi Judy Schindler encourages anyone interested in advocacy in the areas of affordable housing and immigrant justice to contact the Stan Greenspon Holocaust and Social Justice Education Center at Queens University. https://www.stangreensponcenter.org