Monday, June 27, 2022
June 27, 2022

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Clark County organizations start pop-up shop to help Afghan refugees

By , Columbian staff writer
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A card welcomes Afghan refugees to the country at the clothing pop-up shop at Friends of the Carpenter on Monday afternoon.
A card welcomes Afghan refugees to the country at the clothing pop-up shop at Friends of the Carpenter on Monday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Afghan refugees often arrive in Clark County with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Some come alone. Others come as families, from a multi-generational family of 12, to a single mother and her two daughters.

Whatever their circumstances, Lutheran Community Services Northwest resettles them. The organization has so far assisted 61 Afghan refugees by helping them navigate social services, housing and employment.

The resettlement process can take a while. In the meantime, incoming refugees need new clothes.

Multiple Clark County community organizations have stepped up to meet that need, creating a pop-up shop where incoming refugee families can pick up donated clothes for free.

The shop is run out of Friends of the Carpenter in Fruit Valley. It was organized by Clark County residents Jill Karmy, Stephanie Sass and Jennifer English Wallenberg to help support the work of Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

“Our goal was to create a space where refugee families could shop for themselves versus being handed items that might or might not work for them,” Karmy said.

In November, three organizations solicited donations of new and like-new clothing for the shop: English Estate Winery in east Vancouver, Lava Java in Ridgefield and Lupine Experiential School in downtown Vancouver.

Todd Thayer, executive director of Friends of the Carpenter, a nonprofit day facility, offered to host the shop in the organization’s large building.

Josh Coleman, the owner of a local franchise of JDog Junk Removal and Hauling, used his truck to transport the boxes of donated clothes to Friends of the Carpenter. Once the clothes arrived, dozens of volunteers helped sort it all. Staff from the Vancouver Mall J.C. Penney Co. were there; they donated racks to help it look like a real clothing shop. Lupine students and teachers were there, too.

The shop opened on Dec. 6. Since then, all 61 refugees resettled through Lutheran Community Services Northwest have been through it, and additional donations have steadily trickled in. Immanuel Lutheran Church just recently donated backpacks equipped with school supplies, a hot commodity, according to Karmy.

“People have been so generous that we have almost too much,” Karmy said. “And the families are so humble. Some have come in and taken one thing, and I’ve had to encourage them to take more.”

There is still a need for small and medium men’s clothing, luggage and shoes fit for a Northwest winter. Donations are still being accepted at English Estate Winery and Friends of the Carpenter.

Lutheran Community Services Northwest is raising $5,000 per refugee to supplement the federal grant they receive. Additional donations are still needed. The nonprofit is also seeking more housing and employment opportunities for incoming refugees.

The pop-up shop will be open as long as there is a need, according to community engagement manager Eva Luchini. Most Afghan refugees are expected to be resettled by mid-February, and the shop will likely stay open through then. When it closes, any leftover items will given to people experiencing homelessness in Clark County.

Day at the shop

On Monday afternoon, Karmy, Luchini, Thayer and others were at the shop organizing donations. The racks were filled with winter coats, sweaters, shirts and more.

One volunteer, Raquel Brown, a Ridgefield student, was hanging clothes on the racks. She heard about the shop after Karmy put out a call for volunteers on Facebook. Brown responded immediately. When she came to volunteer, she brought some friends. Brown is a member of Unite Ridgefield, a student group committed to promoting equality.

“I can’t imagine if my family was going through what these families are going through,” she said. “Treat people how you would want to be treated, that’s what I believe.”

Luchini nodded. “It is wonderful to have young people care about these issues,” she said. “It’s such a great community and county that we live in. People should take heart that a lot of people of all ages and professions and political ends of the spectrum have come together over this need.”

Thayer said that he’s grateful to be able to support incoming refugee families.

“These folks need help,” he said. “We’re all human beings. We all deserve to be treated with love and respect. The language barrier fades away when they reach out and take your hand and make eye contact and say thank you. We’re just grateful that we were asked to participate in this. It’s a wonderful thing.”

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