How to help Syrian refugees settle in Niagara, without donating money

When we come across someone in need — a neighbour, a friend, a family member — the desire to help is natural and immediate.

When those we want to help seem unfamiliar to us, this desire can be muddied by a simple truth: we don’t always know how to help.

Indeed, there’s no shortage of hospitality for Syrian refugees settling within the Niagara region, but the means of channeling that desire aren’t as clear-cut – especially the case for students.

A lack of disposable income is something that characterizes the student experience, and it’s often difficult to find ways of supporting local causes without opening your wallet.

With the Niagara region expecting close to 300 Syrian refugees by the end of February, however, your donation of time, expertise, or household goods can be just as effective in welcoming newcomers.
Various organizations in Niagara have been responding with a grassroots community effort, with an invitation extended to local residents with a desire to give.

From this desire stems a collective spirit of generosity and charity with which newcomers are embraced – and this could change their lives.

To start, furniture and houseware is a practical and eco-friendly way to give. That extra winter coat and pair of mittens, those chairs stacked in the closet, that blender you’ve relegated to the cupboard under the sink – remarkably, those dust collectors could make a big difference for Syrian refugees arriving to our community with little.

The Niagara Furniture Bank – a charitable organization that helps individuals transition out of homelessness – has partnered with the Niagara Refugee Assistance Committee and the Pen Centre to collect furniture and houseware donations for Syrian refugees.

/huffingtonpost.ca

/huffingtonpost.ca

The Furniture Bank has expressed a need for beds, dressers, lamps, and basic kitchen appliances such as toasters — items that can be diverted from a landfill, and used to improve the living conditions of local refugees.

Interested donors can bring their gently used household items to the Furniture Bank warehouse at 53 Ontario St. in the north end of St. Catharines, or call to schedule a pickup.

You can also volunteer your time. Whether it’s mentorship and advice, language services, or an afternoon set aside to help sort donations, volunteers are the driving force behind refugee support, and facilitate a powerful community connection as refugees strive to create a rewarding new life in Canada.

The Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre (NFAMC) is a community-based, non-profit organization that has spearheaded several refugee-support initiatives, and has a growing need for volunteers.

Volunteers may opt to help refugees practice conversational English, move furniture, navigate government paperwork, organize community welcome events — anything that’s within the scope and desire of the volunteer.

For instance, volunteer drivers are in short supply. All that’s required is your license, access to a car, and any free time you’d like to invest.

Often, this would involve driving a family to the grocery store, local businesses and shopping precincts, or local attractions such as the Niagara Falls.

Though these opportunities, volunteers are bound to meet newcomers and fellow volunteers — an experience that can enriching in itself, concomitant with a greater understanding of other cultures, and the ability to serve as a mentor for refugees embracing the Canadian culture.

Those interested in volunteering are recommended to get in contact with the NFAMC and other local organizations to get a better sense of the process, and the areas where help is needed.

The importance of volunteers and donors cannot be understated, as they set a powerful precedent for future generations of diversity, social connectedness, and ultimately hope for those trying to move past tragedy.

ZAK HAJ-AHMAD

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