Feeding Refugees at an IRC Welcome Center: a Just Serve Stake Service Opportunity
I am the Just Serve stake coordinator, and our stake is working on a service project to provide meals at our local International Rescue Committee’s Welcome Center. I personally love this project because it is so central to what Christ taught us to do. As one Episcopalian woman I spoke with as I was working on plans said, “I don’t care about anyone’s politics. My job is to feed people who are hungry.”
So, I wanted to share what our stake is working on in hopes that other stakes with an IRC Welcome Center near them could prepare a meal for hungry sisters and brothers from all over the world. (Note: this opportunity is evolving and is not on the Just Serve website at this time.)
What are Welcome Centers?
At a Welcome Center, refugees wait for their bus or plane tickets to take them to their final destination in their new country, usually near their sponsor. While waiting, they work with IRC staff and volunteers; refugees get help navigating court dates and interview appointments; meet with nurses to assess health issues; and get access to donated clothing, snacks, and toys. Refugees have a safe place to bathe, eat meals, and a warm bed at these Welcome Centers before they embark on the last leg of their journey as asylum seekers in the United States.
In 2018 and 2019, Arizona experienced a swell of asylum-seekers; churches, synagogues, and mosques in Tucson and Phoenix cobbled together ways to nourish our sisters and brothers from around the world who had come to our country. Generally, our wards and stakes worked in the churches of other denominations who could provide access to showers and beds for a night. It was heart-warming to see a truly interfaith effort. The Mormon network could provide meals for large groups of people and use our minivans to drive refugees to the airports and bus stations while a synagogue, for example, had members of their community set up cots and bedding in their building (and doing LOTS of laundry). This loose network would often have around 24 to 48 hours notice that 30 to 100 refugees needed these services; I was just on the periphery, but there were people who spent all day, every day for weeks, ensuring these refugees had food, clothing, and beds. Because this wasn’t a sustainable process, the International Rescue Committee opened a Welcome Center in Phoenix July 2019, just as the swell of refugees began to ebb.
This past month, we are seeing more people at the borders again, and these refugees again need places to sleep and food while their documentation is processed for the final leg of their journey in the United States.
Other Ways to Involve Members with Planned Activities:
- How Can I Serve and Include | I Was a Stranger: resources on the Church’s website
including the Church’s blog with frequent updates on how wards and stakes are helping
refugees: Stories of Service
- 40 Ways to Help Refugees in Your Community | Latter–day Saints Channel
- Scout Troop Learns that Helping Refugees is as Easy as Riding a Bike
- Welcome to America: Giving Refugees New Hope with Household Goods: a Young Adult Ward
- “I Call Her My Church Mommy:” How Mentors Benefit Refugees
- Invite a Refugee to Dinner
- Make “Welcome to the United States” cards after playing a video posted above to drop off at a Welcome Center
Suggestion from Other Faiths Who Have Fed Refugees
- Serve “hot” meals—even in the middle of summer, a hot chicken soup was appreciated
- Fresh ingredients—refugees have had a lot of heavily processed shelf-stable items on their journey. They appreciate whole fruit that can be saved for later.
- Serve well-known staples like eggs, rice, bananas
- Because refugees come from all over the world and enter at the Mexican/US border, have some vegetarian portions at each meal for Hindus and Buddhists
Current Safety Guidelines for Food Preparation
Phoenix’s Welcome Center does not have a working commercial kitchen so our stake’s options are limited right now to the following
- Buy food prepared at a restaurant or supermarket
- Find a commercial kitchen and prepare the food there.
I’ll continue to post about our efforts and collaboration with our local Welcome Center as we continue to coordinate with the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service.
How has your ward or stake participated in Just Serve? What have been your favorite activities? What would you like to see your ward or stake do?