Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services and Rochester Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1400 Westfall Road, will host refugees from Greater Rochester and those who serve them for the second annual Refugee Holiday Gathering from 4 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 9.
The event serves two purposes. It is the one time of year RRRS volunteers can meet in one place to exchange ideas, successes and failures, and talk about how to better serve America’s newest members. The rest of the event allows refugees to share food and dances
from their cultures and receive community donations including winter clothing.
“Most of the refugee families do not celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, but the holiday season is about a spirit of giving and a spirit of community in the darkest time of year. That’s what this achieves,” said Mike Coniff, executive director. “This is an opportunity for refugees to gather in a bigger circle and know that they aren’t alone, to know that it isn’t just their ethnic group, but there are others. It is an opportunity to enjoy each other and the holiday spirit. It also helps the
volunteers to see the people they are helping as a group, not just one family.”
The event was hastily organized on a few weeks’ notice in 2016, but provided refugees with a gathering opportunity as well as blankets, 300 mattresses and other necessities for adapting to life in America.
Lisa Parker, director of public affairs for Rochester Stake, said the church donated more than $5,000 in cash and commodities as well as more than 100 blankets shipped from other church units this year. The blankets will be distributed by a family who sponsored a Syrian family this year.
The event drew church and community support for donations of dental and other hygiene kit supplies and winter clothing, and is the staging grounds for an Eagle Scout toy delivery project.
Rochester Stake and RRRS received a special recognition award from Mayor Lovely Warren for creating a “welcoming opportunity for fellowship, affirmation and celebration of culture while supporting successful resettlement of our city’s newest residents.”
While refugees receive basic services as part of federal resettlement, that service is short lived. Packer said RRRS and community groups come together to fill in the gaps.
“We see these things worldwide, but to recognize that these families are here in our community and are a part of us is important,” Packer said. “It is great to be involved with them. It is a time to come together and to learn more about their heritage while helping them assimilate. It is a great face-to-face connection that isn’t just dropping off goods.”
The event will draw 300 volunteers and refugees from places like Myanmar, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Syria, Ethiopia and Somalia. The event will mix American holiday traditions like cookie decorating with ethnic foods and dancing. Translators will be provided.