South Jersey businesses are offering their services and organizing fundraising campaigns for Afghan refugees currently housed at the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base after Taliban forces took control of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
From books to scarves, the Cherry Hill Public Library has launched its own campaign to donate Afghan refugees from their traditional in-house collections to help those in need in South Jersey.
“Whether it’s for feminine products or for pets, we sort of cover the full range of donations that we accept and we work with local organizations, so when we heard about the refugees we immediately thought: “OK, let’s get them some books,” said Suzanne Fox, who manages public relations and marketing at the library.
Fox added that the refugees and those working at the common base were especially grateful for the number of children’s books that were dropped off by library director Laverne Mann.
The second library deposit was this week which included more books and this time, scarves.
“We have a sale of lightly used jewelry and accessories twice a year, so people all year round in addition to donating books, they also drop off accessories like scarves and all types of jewelry. So we had a large collection of scarves and decided that it would be better suited to donate to refugees than to have it for our own benefit, ”Fox said.
“The problem is going to continue and make people remember that this is now going to be the new normal and we have to keep replenishing the donations so that we know that we will be part of our mission to continue to collect donations and give them back. bring. out there, ”Fox said.
Fox said literature is a great equalizer between people, providing an escape from everyday life, regardless of your race, religion or language you speak.
“Everyone likes the books,” Fox said. “It’s kind of a way to reach all ages, all nationalities, all languages, so I think that’s where the call comes in. It’s something families can do. to bond. It’s also a way to escape, which I think anyone can look at a book as a form of escape.
Norma’s oriental Mediterranean restaurant
Elias Bitar was approached by the New Jersey Salvation Army to help feed the arriving refugees and was able to create a menu where he and his staff could prepare and pack meals in no time.
The owner of Norma’s oriental Mediterranean restaurant in Cherry Hill said the organization has researched its halal meat and food that is said to be similar to Afghan cuisine.
When the arrival of the refugees was delayed that Saturday, Bitar and his team took the opportunity to have an impromptu training run where they cooked around 75 meals in two hours to feed staff and volunteers.
Norma’s staff were “very excited” to work on preparing and delivering meals, Bitar said.
“I got calls from everyone whether they were working or not – even former employees who were like, ‘hey, if you need any help with that, I’ll be there like you don’t. not even have to pay me, ‘which is great,’ Bitar said. “I mean it was very energizing.”
Building on its success during the initial arrival, Bitar is now associated with Philabundance produce several thousand meals a day, although the number of meals fluctuates as refugees arrive.
For Bitar, intervening to help Afghans who are far from their country of origin was his way of making a positive impact.
“We have the ability to influence change in the political system by voting and doing a whole bunch of other things and choosing who represents us, but often decisions are made,” Bitar said. “We may or may not like them, but there isn’t much we can do about them, and in this case foreign policy aside … it was like ordinary citizens could sort of pick up on it.” where government or policy had failed. “
For co-owner and manager of Baba Grill in Cinnaminson Asmat Gilani, concerns for his family back in Afghanistan haunt his thoughts.
“I have a sister and a brother in Afghanistan who I am thinking of,” Gilani said. “What can I do here – because thank goodness a lot of Americans are helping the people. That’s why I’m trying to find a way … my sister, pregnant, my mom is over there. The news is very bad in Afghanistan.
Gilani fled Afghanistan 21 years ago to escape the Taliban. He moved to Russia and then immigrated to the United States in 2006. And now, years later, he sees the Taliban taking over his home country with a sense of helplessness and fear for his family.
“I want to see my sister and my brother,” Gilani said. “That’s why I ask a lot of people in one way or another (to help them get them to the United States)”
Gilani said he had heard of the military base to feed the refugees and was ready to prepare up to 300 meals a day when needed.
When the mother of a student at Lightbridge Academy in Mount Laurel approached the daycare about her husband working with the Joint Base to donate items to Afghan refugees, it was an instant call to action.
“She suggested we maybe have a diaper and wipes drive, so we mostly did that, but we opened it up if you wanted to donate any other items, please let us know so that we let’s also have families who have donated like womens clothing and children’s clothing, ”said Caitlyn Fritzsche, vice-principal of the school.
Owners Phil and Amy Speiser, principal Lauren Nolan and others at the daycare including daycare specialist Christine Andrew and teacher Reann McNeary were also instrumental in the fundraising efforts and were able to complete a truckload of items sent to the base, Fritzsche added.
Fritzsche also said the decision to side with refugees, especially children, stems from a long-standing mission of the company.
“We have what’s called a first circle of care, so it’s like the center of everything we do here and we look at it when we make important decisions within the company. really something that we experience here and that has the kid at the center and the heart of everything we do and obviously thinking about these kids was definitely our number one priority and thinking about those strict necessities and any way we could help in this regard was very important, ”said Fritzsche.
Wonder World toy store and baby shop
In Medford, Alex and Jessica Breaux, owners of Wonder World Toy Store & Baby Boutique, are organizing a toy drive until September to collect items for refugee children from the common base.
When the sisters-in-law learned that Gov. Phil Murphy had announced that the refugees would be resettled here in South Jersey, the couple donated items like stuffed animals upon their arrival.
Alex Breaux says his father, who served as a medic in Afghanistan, has always been his inspiration to help others.
“He actually sponsored his translator to come to America. So we’ve been looking after Saleem and his family for 10 years now, so it’s something that is close to me and I was able to watch as a true Afghan the American dream and be saved, “said Breaux.” When I moved to New Jersey, I donated all of my furniture to her. So he and my dad have been friends for almost a decade now. “
Customers who wish to participate in the drive can donate toys or purchase toys from the store to donate which will then be driven to the base.
The toy drive was well received by the community with donations beyond toys such as clothes and diapers.
Breaux says it is important for Americans to help refugees because the creation of the United States was based on flight in search of a better life.
“It all goes back to a time when we were all in this situation like our great-grandparents, we all have someone in our family who came here. We really all came from the same situation. We were all running away for a reason. or whatever, ”Breaux said.