FAIRFAX, Va. — On a sweltering summer day, the boxes keep coming.
“This has been a really aggressive ramp up, as you can see,” said Kristyn Peck, CEO of Lutheran Social Services - National Capital Area (LSSNCA).
The boxes contain the basic necessities for a new life, which are destined for Afghan allies arriving in the U.S. It’s not the first time Lutheran Social Services – National Capital Area have been called up to do this.
“We've been serving refugees and immigrants since right after World War II,” said Peck.
They are now helping those fleeing a different war, as a part of the nine national social services agencies the U.S. government is working with to help arriving Afghan refugees.
“We are so grateful to be able to be on the front lines of this response. This is why we do our work,” Peck said. “This is why we're here, but it has taken a community effort.”
It hasn’t been easy.
They received 24 hours notice from the government that Afghan refugees would be arriving and needing their help. A scramble for volunteers and donations began.
“It has been pretty overwhelming,” said Regan Brough, stake director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Annandale, Virginia. “Trucks started arriving last Wednesday and they reached out for help saying we need volunteers here now.”
Inside the church basement, among scores of donations, a small staff for LSSNCA works to process the needs of hundreds of government-vetted, incoming Afghan refugees.
“It's feeling a little bit chaotic right now to some of us, but we're happy to be here and happy to open the doors and be on hand,” said Pastor Dan Roschke with Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
In all of last year, Peck said they helped 500 people resettle in the area. Now, they’ve helped settle 500 refugees just this month.
“We didn't have the number of staff we would need to accommodate this level of clients,” Peck said. “And so, we are working with our volunteer network to ensure that we have volunteers who are helping to do home visits, who are helping to bring clients gift cards.”
Crammed into the hallways outside the office, toiletries, cleaning supplies, child car seats, and even vacuum cleaners, are sorted for distribution to the refugees. Every little bit helps they say, to help people who have been through an experience unimaginable to most.
“We hope that they feel welcomed and loved. They have gone through a very traumatic experience,” Brough said. “And right now, they need to know that there are people who care about them and that want them to be well and to help them get started in a new place where they can be well.”
They hope the generosity will extend beyond the short term.
“I hope that this response sustains beyond this initial emergency period and people are reaching out to their new neighbors, knocking on the door: ‘What can I do to help you?” Peck said. “I think that those connections that we have with each other are really critical to foster resilience.”
In addition to gathering donations, finding safe, permanent housing for the refugees is also a big challenge.
If you would like to help in any way, you can click here for the website to LSSNCA and see what donations are still needed. You can also reach out to their national organization, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee service by clicking here.