Penn Yan group seeking pillows, sheets, pajamas for Afghan refugees: How you can help

Alex Andrasik, Penn Yan Action Coalition member

Thousands of Afghan refugees have arrived in the United States in recent months, driven from their country by the turmoil there.  Regardless of how any of us may feel about the circumstances surrounding their arrival, their presence is a simple fact.  Now, these innocent men, women and children need us as they seek to establish new lives in cities around the nation, including Rochester.  Local organizations, coordinated by the Penn Yan Action Coalition (PYAC), are mobilizing to aid in regional efforts, and Yates County residents can help.

PYAC and our partners invite our community to help fulfill refugees’ urgent needs, identified by volunteers in Rochester.  We will hold a bedding supply drive from December 6 through 15, during which the public can donate:

  • Pillows (brand new and in their original packaging)
  • Sheets (can be new or gently used; twin or double bed size only)
  • Comforters (also new or gently used; single, double or queen size)
  • Children’s winter pajamas (new or gently used)

Donors can drop these goods off at two locations: Penn Yan Public Library (214 Main Street, www.pypl.org) between 9:00 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. (4:00 p.m. Saturdays), or in Keuka Park at Keuka Commons between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and Lightner Library between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.  Keuka College students and staff can also contribute at locations throughout campus, thanks to the efforts of the Sigma Lambda Sigma service organization, which has been working with PYAC to organize this drive.

A refugee’s journey is neither easy nor short; it can take months and many stages.  According to Lauren Frye from the Catholic Family Center (CFC), the refugees arriving in Rochester came via “forts” in New Jersey, Virginia, and New Mexico.  Destinations are chosen for family connections in the area, or for the infrastructure in place to handle the influx.  (More detailed information about this process can be found at saintsplace.org/refugee-arrivals.)

In Rochester, the CFC receives funds from the US government to help settle refugees.  When refugees arrive, CFC staff and interpreters meet with the individuals or families and bring them to their new homes, which are set up by case managers and volunteers.  Lisa Hoyt of the CFC reports that 170 Afghan refugees have arrived in the Rochester area in the past six weeks alone, and 80 more are expected by the end of the year.  

Providing for their needs then falls to organizations like Pittsford-based Saint’s Place, which has served over 16,000 refugees since 1998.  According to their website, “In this unprecedented year, we have been told to expect approximately 1200 refugees, Afghan and others… [With] the huge number...expected in such a short span, we realize that our vast supply of items will quickly dwindle. …The need for beds and other items will remain exceptionally high, as the influx of refugees will continue from now through next summer or fall.”

This situation has been mounting for some time.  In August, President Joe Biden’s administration effected the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, fulfilling a commitment made by his predecessor, Donald Trump.  Though supported by Americans across the political spectrum as a necessary conclusion to our longest armed conflict, the withdrawal set in motion the repressive Taliban regime’s reconquering of the beleaguered country. 

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Afghan citizens who had begun to prosper under the fragile democratic government, bolstered by the US military presence, now find their freedoms curtailed anew—especially women, who had welcomed the opportunity to carve out an active place in their society.  Also in danger are the many Afghans who have worked with our military to keep the Taliban at bay for decades.  In the vacuum left by our departure, civic life in Afghanistan crumbled, violent reprisals began, and a humanitarian crisis erupted.

Our new arrivals left behind promising lives and loved ones to escape to safer shores.  One young man, a head nurse in Afghanistan, endured a journey to Rochester via Qatar, Fort Lee, and Chicago; he plans to become certified to work as a nurse here in New York, but until then, he is eager to take any job to help him pay his way.  In another case, a young mother of two was forced to leave her husband behind to escape with her children.  These and hundreds more require aid to safely integrate into American society.  More stories about refugees’ experiences can be found on the Saint’s Place website. 

From the dangers in their home country, many Afghans have made it to the land of opportunity.  It is now up to each of us to act as welcoming neighbors and see them provided with the basic necessities to start their new lives with dignity.  Please start gathering the requested supplies now, and plan to deliver them to Penn Yan Public Library or Keuka Commons starting December 6.