- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2021

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has helped more than 400 Afghan refugees resettle in a District suburb through a charity drive, The Washington Times learned Monday.

Organizer Andrea Cook said Monday that 10 Latter-day Saints congregations in the District, Maryland and Virginia solicited clothing and rugs to distribute to refugee families at a Hyattsville, Maryland, congregation.

“Refugees are here; they’re our neighbors and we can help them,” Ms. Cook said, adding that the congregations mobilized upon seeing “those planeloads stuffed with Afghans trying to get out” when the Taliban conquered the country in August.

Ms. Cook, a chemistry professor at Trinity Washington University, said the refugees were especially eager to find house rugs.

“It’s pretty random, but every family we’ve met wants rugs on every square inch of their apartment floors,” said Ms. Cook, 34.

Other items given away include bicycles, diapers, wipes, shoes, toys, socks and underwear.

Mormon congregations in other parts of the U.S. also mailed bulk donations of some items from an Amazon wish list to Whitney Day, a Hyattsville volunteer who said she “felt grateful” to be part of the drive.

“It was heartwarming to see the generosity of local people giving to strangers in need. Both the giver and receiver walked away happy. No one felt robbed and no one felt entitled,” Ms. Day said.

Several local mosques even helped gather traditional women’s clothing like headscarves, according to the drive’s organizers.

“We were really happy that people got helped. We have plans to do something similar next year, but we all have jobs and kids, so we need a little time to recover,” Ms. Cook said.

Organizers said three resettlement agencies — the Ethiopian Community Development Council, International Rescue Committee and Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area — gave the Mormon congregations addresses for three apartment properties in the Hyattsville area where refugees have settled.

The congregations then organized volunteer carpools to pick up the refugees, many of who remain unlicensed to drive in the United States, to the distribution site.

“Three apartment complexes in the Hyattsville area are refugee-friendly and the majority of Afghan refugees in the DMV have been settled there,” Ms. Cook said.

Asked to confirm reports that the Biden administration has instructed at-capacity resettlement agencies to expect a new influx of Afghan parolees without SIVs over the next 16 months, an official with the Ethiopian Community Development Center declined on Monday to comment.

But Ms. Cook, who first started organizing Latter-day Saints charity drives for Syrian refugees five years ago, said “tens of thousands” of Afghans are still being processed at military bases.

That means the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors Drive” refugee drive may not have to wait long before mobilizing again.

“Everyone is just completely overwhelmed right now because of the volume of refugees we’ve seen,” she said.

The first wave of U.S. military translators that came with Special Immigrant Visas have already settled permanently in the area and do not plan to ever return to Afghanistan, she added.

“They’re just trying to get jobs and make a living right now,” Ms. Cook said.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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