Within the past two months, members of the Rexburg community have come together and have donated thousands of items to refugees through the growing organization, Rexburg for Refugees.
Emmilie Whitlock, the co-creator of Rexburg for Refugees, along with her husband, Eric Whitlock, said that since they created the organization in April, over 4,000 in-kind donations have been given to refugees through their organization.
“They’ve made kind of a hub in Rexburg,” said Stacie Miller, a Rexburg resident who helped organize a donation drive for Rexburg for Refugees in Madison School District #321.
Julie Zollinger, the housing coordinator for Rexburg for Refugees, said she feels like there were many people wanting to help with the refugee crisis but were at a loss for how to do so from Rexburg.
“I think what the people who want to help appreciate the most is that we provide them with the list of exact things that people need,” Zollinger said.
A specific list of items that may be donated is available on the Rexburg for Refugees Web page.
Eric Whitlock said the donated items are either delivered to the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, Utah, or the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, depending on the needs of each organization.
“We’re not trying to just help blindly,” Eric Whitlock said. “We’re trying to fill specific needs, and (. . .) it’s been really rewarding.”
He said, for example, that while both centers have a need for common hygiene products, the CSI center has a greater need for home and living items, such as home décor and bicycles as a mode of transportation, because most refugees in the resettlement program there end up staying and living in the community.
When refugees arrive in Twin Falls, they are met at the airport by the resettlement coordinator with a translator available that speaks the refugees’ language and are then taken to their furnished apartment with a three-day supply of food, according to the CSI Refugee Center website.
“The apartment is furnished with both required and additional items to reduce the stress of the arriving family,” according to the website.
Refugee families receive multiple orientations within about two days of arrival to help them adjust to their new home, according to the website.
Eric Whitlock said the bulk of their donations go to the IRC in Salt Lake City because that is where the bulk of the refugees the organization is serving are located.
Eric Whitlock said that aside from just collecting and delivering donations, Rexburg for Refugees aims to educate people about the reality of being a refugee. One way the organization is going to do this is by hosting “Refugees 101,” a community event on June 11 in the Rexburg Tabernacle.
“I think there are just a lot of misconceptions, especially with the Syrian refugee crisis, about who the refugees are and who’s coming to Idaho and what experiences they’ve had,” said Rebecca Wilkey, the community outreach coordinator for Rexburg for Refugees.
Wilkey said the event will feature speakers who have personal experience with refugee resettlement in Idaho.
Wilkey said three of the speakers are refugees themselves studying at BYU-I.
“Hearing their stories — hearing from them — (can) help people understand that refugees are normal people who just had their life turned upside down,” Wilkey said. “And when they come here, they’re just going to get that in order, and then they’re going to be normal people and just succeed in all the ways that they have the potential to.”
Wilkey said Julianne Donnelly Tzul, the executive director of the Boise IRC, will also be speaking at the event. She said Tzul will be speaking about the resettlement process refugees undertake and the expansion the program expects within the next two or three years.
Wilkey said that though the event is being hosted by Rexburg for Refugees, other organizations focused on helping refugees will be there to give information to those seeking to help.
“They’ll be able to give people concrete ways that they can help right then and there and to understand what their resources are to aid these individuals that are coming and who are already here,” Wilkey said.
Zollinger said that though the organization anticipates this great influx of donations to die down eventually, Rexburg for Refugees is here to stay.
“This isn’t a fad; this isn’t a drive,” Zollinger said. “It’s an organization that will continue to be here.”
Eric Whitlock said that as more and more people seek refugee status, the need to help them will just increase, and he hopes they can continue to offer more help to those who need it.
“We just want to see (Rexburg for Refugees) continue to grow and spread our reach, really,” he said.