Spreading the warmth

GVL / Courtesy - CSLC office
Students gather clothering for the winter gear drive on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016.

CSLC office

GVL / Courtesy – CSLC office Students gather clothering for the winter gear drive on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016.

Emily Doran

To help arriving refugees settle into West Michigan this winter, several Grand Valley State University departments and organizations have united to host the Welcoming Our Neighbors Winter Gear Drive.

Collection boxes will be stationed through Friday, Feb. 10, at various locations around the Allendale Campus, including the Community Service Learning Center (CSLC) in 1110 Kirkhof Center, the Niemeyer Learning and Living Center front desk and the Dean of Students Office in the Student Services Building. Needed items include coats, gloves, hats and boots, particularly in adult sizes. Donated items will be given to Bethany Christian Services (BCS).

In 2016, more than 850 refugees settled in Grand Rapids, and BCS predicts roughly 420 more will arrive in 2017. Last year, the Kaufman Interfaith institute, CSLC and Better Together, a GVSU interfaith group, collaborated to host their first winter gear drive in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

“Recognizing that it’s winter again, and our community is still seeing a steady influx of refugees, those same groups came together again said, ‘Let’s see if we can do this again but even bigger this year,’” said Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life, civic engagement and assessment. “So, we reached out more broadly to other campus partners to get other cosponsors and attempt to have a broader reach.”

This year, the winter gear drive is being sponsored by the Division of Student Services, the Division of Inclusion and Equity, the Division of Enrollment Development and student senate.

Baker-Boosamra said the winter gear drive will serve to benefit refugees who oftentimes immigrate to the United States with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing.

“They come with nothing,” she said. “Oftentimes, these are families who are literally coming (with just) the clothes on their backs. (I) would like to say that we would like to get a coat for every one of those refugees.”

Baker-Boosamra said another motivation for hosting the drive was to foster GVSU’s continued involvement with people of different faiths and backgrounds in the Grand Rapids community and to promote understanding between different people groups.

“We’re seeing an increase in polarization, where, often, if you don’t look like me or speak the same language as I do or believe in the same religious faith, chances are we’re not going to have a chance to get to know one another,” Baker-Boosamra said. “We really see this as an opportunity to, as a campus community, make our broader West Michigan community a more welcoming place for all people. (This) is something tangible, albeit something small, (we) can all do to lend a hand.”

Baker-Boosamra also said the winter gear drive reflects GVSU’s values, such as community, sustainability and inclusion and equity. Donating used winter coats is a form of recycling, for example, and it contributes to GVSU’s sustainability initiatives.

“With regard to community, we are recognizing our responsibility to the broader community, whether that is our broader local community or our broader global community,” Baker-Boosamra said. “With regard to equity and inclusion, this is providing Grand Valley faculty, staff and students with an opportunity potentially to learn more about the refugee crisis, in the best-case scenario, and at the very least, to do something even in a small way about it.”

Ella Fritzemeier, student senate president, agrees the winter gear drive reflects GVSU’s core values.

“It kind of goes with a lot of our values and what we value as a community,” Fritzemeier said. “One thing we’re really moving toward is civic engagement, that idea of giving back to the community and being more service-oriented as a campus, so I think that this project really helps exude that for us.”

Baker-Boosamra said she hopes this winter gear drive will not only result in a lot of donated items, but will also spur the GVSU community to think about the situations that make such initiatives relevant.

“I (want) to challenge the Grand Valley community, in addition to taking that small step, to also seek to better understand the reasons why refugees and refugee families are coming, are having to leave their homes,” she said. “We just want people not only to be contributing in the form of winter gear to help. We also want people to be thinking critically and asking questions about why people are forced from their homes and to think about our responsibility and just being aware of policies that create situations like this refugee crisis in Syria.”

To learn more about the winter gear drive and other collection box locations, visit www.gvsu.edu/gvnow/2017/winter-gear-drive-supports-refugees-9778.htm.