Faith guides refugee resettlement
On the drive back to Catholic Charities, Chris Kramer contemplated how he would find a three-bedroom home for a family of six refugees arriving in two days. He breathed deeply and prayed to the Lord for help.
His prayer was answered when he reached his desk and saw a voicemail message waiting. It was the landlord of a three-bedroom home who wanted to know if Kramer had a family in need. “Thank you, Lord,” he thought as he made arrangements with the landlord for the arriving refugee family.
“I’ve been in similar situations, said the same prayer four different times and without fail, the Lord has constantly provided what’s needed in the time frame of when it’s needed,” Kramer said.
Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program has been blessed many times with volunteers and donors who made it possible for the small team to resettle 333 people – about 121 families – over 12 months. And the need for support increases each day as Catholic Charities is expecting to resettle more than 400 refugees this year.
Kramer just celebrated his first anniversary at Catholic Charities and the Fairfield native enjoys his work as a housing specialist. A Lee University graduate of intercultural studies, Kramer built a database of property management companies of all sizes who rent apartments and homes to refugees. Many of these landlords have worked with Catholic Charities for years.
“They are willing to take that leap of faith with us as we find first homes for families,” Kramer said. Refugee tenants are reliable and appreciative of having a place to call home.
Typically, Kramer learns of a family arriving four to five weeks in advance, which gives him time to find housing, organize volunteers, and move household items from the warehouse to the new home. The required furnishings and necessities are basic: one couch, a kitchen table with chairs, a bed and a blanket. In the past, new arrivals would have to spend up to $250 from their $1,000 living allowance to complete their homes. That’s a significant expense when the living allowance needs to stretch for 90 days –the expected time when Catholic Charities assists a refugee in landing his or her first job.
But through the generosity of the community at large, Kramer has a small warehouse of household items to also provide a coffee table or night stand, a mop or broom and even toiletries, cleaning supplies and artwork. A picture here or there makes a rental apartment or house feel like home. Donations of welcome baskets and gently used furniture enable refugees to use their allowance for groceries and utilities.
“Some donors hear a story about a refugee family on the news and ask themselves what do I have in excess? They’re moved by compassion as they recognize these families are a lot like their own families. They see it as their Christian duty to see others’ circumstances improve,” Kramer said.
Another way the community is making a difference is by volunteering during the bi-monthly warehouse days. Volunteers sort, organize and prepare items for moves. Twelve to 50 volunteers on Saturdays make Kramer’s job easier. He usually shares a story about one of the recently resettled refugee families so volunteers understand the impact of their work. Volunteers often share their experience with others which has resulted in more companies donating household items and more volunteers getting involved.
“I believe they’re divine connections,” Kramer said. “We couldn’t do this without the support of friends.”
Household items can be scheduled for drop off at Catholic Charities offices at 7162 Reading Road, Suite 600 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., or at the Catholic Charities warehouse most first and third Saturdays of every month. Contact Kramer in advance at 513-672-3723 or [email protected] to schedule and confirm item drop offs.
Large items such as couches and tables can be picked up as capacity allows. Catholic Charities is unable to accept large household items such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers or stoves.
To learn more about the warehouse days or how to donate items, visit www.ccswoh.org and click on “refugee resettlement.”