Making the refugee crisis personal

Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill and founders of group Rexburg for Refugees explained how BYU-Idaho students could help with the refugee crisis.

The College of Southern Idaho, located in Twin Falls, is the closest refugee center to Rexburg. They have recently received refugees from Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Iran, Iraq and a few other countries, according to the Refugee Center website.

Merrill said his office has not been contacted to shelter any refugees at the moment.

Merrill encouraged BYU-I students to contribute in any small way they can.

He said it is very important to listen to political leaders and different churches. He said prays will also help.

Merrill said students can help through the Church Humanitarian Aid Fund or any credible charity organization.

Emmilie Whitlock, a faculty   member in the communication department, and her husband, Eric Whitlock, a junior studying business management, started a local donation group that allows students and members of the community to contribute. The group is called Rexburg for Refugees.

Every Thursday and Sunday from  5-7 p.m., Rexburg for Refugees drives to donor’s houses and picks up items for donation, according to the Rexburg for Refugees Facebook page.

They said they are developing ideas to help students with limited budgets become more involved. These include a roommate challenge list, where roommates divide up different items to purchase.

The Whitlocks said students should talk to their housing managers to set up a donation box in their housing complex.

The Whitlocks said they started Rexburg for Refugees after listening to April’s general conference.

“I have never felt more moved in my whole life,” Emmilie Whitlock said. “I’ve been hearing about the refugee crisis, and I knew it was a thing, but I didn’t realize it was as big as it was. Sixty million people displaced from their homes. I can’t even begin to fathom that group of people that are just looking for refuge.”

Eric Whitlock said they started tying blankets during conference to donate to the International Rescue Committee.

“Let’s just become the donation center for Rexburg,” Eric Whitlock said.

Emmilie Whitlock said the purpose of Rexburg for Refugees is to educate and empower the community in humanizing the face of refugees.

Six hundred items have been  collected so far. Every week, Rexburg for Refugees drives all the donations to the IRC.

“Each year, thousands of refugees are invited by the U.S. government to seek safety and freedom,” according to the IRC. “Forced to flee conflict or persecution, many refugees have survived against incredible odds. Refugees step off the plane with next to nothing but their dignity, hope and determination.”

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the IRC helps refugees to rebuild their lives, according to the IRC.

The First Presidency has also introduced a resource called ‘I Was a Stranger’ in order to assist members of the Church in serving the refugees in their individual communities, according to Mormon Newsroom.

Elder Patrick Kearon, a member of the quorum of the Seventy, said in his conference address in April that one in every 122 humans has been forced to flee their homes, and half of these people are children.

“Let us come out from our safe places and share with them, from our abundance, hope for a brighter future, faith in God and in our fellowman and love that sees beyond cultural and ideological differences to the glorious truth that we are all children of our Heavenly Father,” Elder Kearon said.

For more information, visit the Rexburg for Refugees Facebook page.

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