BYU-Idaho Service Activities is running a donation drive on Tuesday to assist refugees around the world.
“I Was a Stranger focuses on helping refugees in local neighborhoods and communities,” according to the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Katy Williams, a senior studying psychology, and Otto Schweinfurth, a junior studying accounting, got together to figure out how to help BYU-I students take part in the initiative to assist the refugees after hearing about it during general conference.
Williams said she and Schweinfurth both work under Campus Initiated Service Projects and have partnered with a few of the approved church organizations around Idaho and Utah that work with the refugee families coming into the United States. The Student Housing and Living Office helped promote the event as well.
“Right now, the greatest need is for cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products, so that’s what this drive is about this coming May, and we’ll have another one in June and probably in July, with each one having a different specific item that we’re asking for based on the needs of these families,” Williams said.
Schweinfurth said that in this particular case, it is following what the leaders of the Church asked church members to do.
“Here at BYU-I, we have a student population of 15,000, and we’re all members of the Church, so we’ve all been asked to take part in this initiative,” she said. “That’s what this is. It’s just an opportunity for people to get more involved and understand a little bit more of what is the refugee effort.”
Schweinfurth said although the program just began this semester, they hope it will continue at BYU-I.
“Our school is all about being disciple leaders, and becoming a disciple leader is something that requires action; it’s not something you can just say,” Williams said. “Being a refugee doesn’t define who you are, but our response to what our church leaders have asked of us defines who we are.”
Schweinfurth said the program is not about the politics, but about the people who need help.
He said that after listening to general conference, he knew that helping refugees was something that he wanted to do.
Schweinfurth said students at BYU-I have responded well.
Williams said students have been reaching out to their families living all around Idaho and that this project is something that helps to bring together the university and the community.
“Everyone seemed pretty excited about helping, even if it’s just donating something simple like cleaning supplies,” Schweinfurth said. “They want to help, so it was pretty amazing to see that.”
Williams said she had a conversation with another student about the campaign. She said the student told her she had been praying for an opportunity to respond to the Lord’s call.
“The student response has been amazing,” she said. “A lot of people just really feel passionate, and they just really feel the drive to serve. I think it really shows the faith that the students have to follow the counsel of the prophet.”
Williams said she had the opportunity to speak with Cheryl A. Esplin, former counselor in the Primary General Presidency.
Williams said that after she told Esplin about the desire to help refugees this semester, Esplin told her to instill faith in the students and to help them recognize that this is from the Lord.
“I want the student body to know that we have the support of the Church leaders and that we are following them,” Williams said.
Schwienfurth said he would advise students to reread the talk from Elder Kearon, figure out what they can do to get involved and go onto the I Was a Stranger website to figure out how to help.
“I think the only advice that I could give is just from personal experience,” Williams said. “Just do it. Like Nike says, just do it.”
The donation drive is Tuesday, May 24, from 3-5 p.m. in the Joseph Fielding Smith Building Amphitheater.