S T. LOUIS – The St. Louis International Institute anticipates 1,400 refugees from Afghanistan will make St. Louis their new home.
They received a large number of donations and announced that they are pausing in-kind donations until staff can take inventory and find out what needs have not been met. Meanwhile, the institute continues to accept cash donations and grocery gift cards.
Arrey Obenson, president and CEO of the St. Louis International Institute, said they expect a wave of refugees next week. As they arrive, they will be given items to start a new life in St. Louis. The institute has been the reception and reception center for donations.
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“We are surrounded by donations that have come from the community, we have been inundated with the generosity of this community and it can only be shown with everything you see around us,” said Obenson.
“If we are looking for a moving story, this is a moving story, everything you see around here tells a story of people who … see a humanitarian crisis and want to help.”
Obenson said that when they first asked for donations, they anticipated filling a storage room that is about a quarter the size of the institute’s gym.
“We did not imagine that it would fill this gym, overflow the hallways and require additional storage,” he added.
The institute is using three storage facilities outside of the gym, another warehouse, and there is still not enough space to house the St. Louis bounty.
“People went to buy new dishes, everything they see here, mostly new things, people bought for these families, it’s amazing,” said Obenson.
“We knew there would be support, but we had no idea, no idea that it would be of this magnitude.”
Along with the influx of donations, they have also received an influx of volunteer applications. Missouri state refugee coordinator Paul Costigan said volunteer applications at the institute have increased by several hundred percent, but they still need more.
“When refugees and parolees first arrive, there is a list of things we have to do for them, including health screenings, orientation on the bus and orientation at the supermarket; all those activities involve volunteers, ”he said.
Costigan said this is not the first time he has seen St. Louis welcoming refugees firsthand.
“In 1999, we had an influx of Kosovars being evacuated from Kosovo during the Balkan War and one summer we had hundreds of Kosovo families coming to St. Louis and the sheer amount of support was incredible,” Costigan said.
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“When this huge amount of support from all the donations, all the volunteers, all the companies asking for help came as no surprise to me because I had seen it before.”
Volunteer applications increased several hundred percent. “You may think you don’t have a useful ability, but you really do,” Costigan said.
He said that while parents are preparing for work or in English language learning classes, they also need volunteers to care for their children.
“The people of St. Louis are extremely generous and we really appreciate the great amount of support and hope that we can make them proud by having families that find homes, find long-term homes in St. Louis that end up staying here, opening businesses, and ending up contributing to our community, ”he said.
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