Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

One People, One Voice. This Is the Sound of All of Us

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

One People, One Voice. This Is the Sound of All of Us

Article excerpt

AFTER AN ELECTION that deeply divided the nation, many Americans reading newspapers or watching network news found it hard to recognize their beloved country. If what they read in the papers is true, some voters don't care about refugees or even their own poor, homeless and sick fellow citizens? Do Americans believe they can't help solve conflicts in other countries, so why try? Just how will giving tax breaks and Cabinet positions to the rich make jobs magically appear? Is it a waste of money to provide healthcare, housing, and education to everyone? Do huge numbers of Americans actually care only about themselves, or is the media only giving us half the story?

My own faith in the goodness of everyday Americans was restored in one day-Nov. 27.

Several weeks earlier, a team of volunteers, including Diana Mae Richards, Alex McDonald, Victoria Sams and Drew Curtiss (my brother and co-owner of the space next to this magazine's offices and bookstore) had filled a "pop-up" store with clothes, donated by Moon Wang of Georgetown Valet and others, furniture and household goods for refugees. We soon discovered that refugees settling in the DC metro area couldn't get there or haul their new belongings back to the suburbs where they've been placed.

A thousand volunteers from the Fairfax (VA) Community Church-which has a membership of 3,000-came to the rescue. Lani Willbanks, pastor of Missional Groups, organized a pick up of all our donations and added them to a container full of goods the church had been gathering for its "One Day" event the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Next, volunteers sorted through everything; they piled clothes on separate tables labeled in Arabic and English for babies, women, men and children. There was an entire room filled with shoes, another full of coats, and racks filled with pots, pans, dishes and other household goods.

When I arrived, volunteers were just finishing up, and youngsters were setting up a kids' room with tables for face- and rock- painting and games. Suddenly the word spread-the buses the church had chartered to pick up refugees from locations around Maryland and Virginia had arrived. Volunteers, young and old, lined the hallway smiling, clapping and saying, "Welcome!" to the refugees in English and Arabic.

American children collected and entertained the little ones from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, while their mothers and grandmothers filled bags for their families. Some of the men gathered outside to smoke. Then came a wonderful feast-prepared by the Lebanese Taverna-and a time to relax and chat. The refugees I spoke with were so pleased by the hearty welcome and generosity of the Fairfax Community Church. They were happy to have found safety in America, but eager to obtain drivers' licenses and jobs so they become independent again.

"Spending the day at this church took me back to my childhood in Iowa and the kind of Americans I knew then: church-going, community- oriented, loving their neighbor," Richards, an organizer from the refugee "pop-up" store, said. "The best part was seeing small children carrying toys-including a doll house! Many proudly showed their painted faces. It was a fun day."

As I left, I lingered to watch tables full of church volunteers creating lovely Christmas cards for American soldiers. They were writing friendly and encouraging notes to place in "Care Boxes" brimming with candy, nuts, cereal, playing cards and other supplies. …

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