Winter gear drive to benefit refugees

GVL / Courtesy - CSLC office
Winter gear drive

GVL / Courtesy – CSLC office Winter gear drive

Amelia Eck

Though spring may be right around the corner, there is still some cold weather to get through until it starts to warm up. The stereotypically harsh Michigan winters may be hard for those that have never experienced it before, like many of the refugees that have recently settled in the area.

Several Grand Valley State University groups are preparing to help those in need for the possibility of more cold and snow by holding a winter gear collection drive to benefit refugees in West Michigan.

Katie Gordon, program manager of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at GVSU, helps to oversee the process and the students who assist in the clothing drive.

“We are collecting goods that Bethany Christian Services, one of the leading refugee settlement agencies in Grand Rapids, expressed they were in need of,” she said.

The community groups involved – including the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, student organization Better Together, Wesley Fellowship and the Community Service Learning Center – have been receiving donations of different pieces of winter apparel. The coats, hats and mittens collected are being donated to Bethany Christian Services.

“The goal is twofold: first, we’d like to support incoming refugees by providing much needed resources, from winter coats to school supplies. Secondly, we’d like to humanize the refugees in West Michigan and the United States,” Gordon said. “Refugees are community members, business members, owners, colleagues, and ultimately, our neighbors.”

Grand Rapids welcomes about 800 refugees a year into its community from countries ranging from Bosnia to Bhutan. The winter apparel these groups are looking for includes coats and general winter gear. They are also hoping for items like school supplies, books and basic “starter items.” Bethany Christian Services aims to help refugee families begin their lives in Michigan.

“These refugees are enriching our neighborhoods,” Gordon said. “When we positively embrace them through collecting resources and becoming friends, they enrich our lives as well.”

Another active member who has a huge role in this drive is Ranya Hwail, president of the interfaith student organization Better Together. Better Together helps students on campus build interfaith cooperation through events such as this clothing drive.

“We wanted to create a space for positive interaction between students of different backgrounds to get to know one another,” Hwail said. “This is an effort to increase understanding, acceptance, diversity and inclusion on our campus.”

Hwail and the interfaith groups hope to create positive social change, to understand their own religious or non-religious identity and work together to create a better world.

“Inter-religious understanding in a time of global religious conflict is such a change,” she said. “These refugee families are coming from different backgrounds and faiths.”

All donations can be dropped off at the GVSU Community Service Learning Center on weekdays, ending March 4.