Between September 2021 and mid-February, an estimated 74,000 Afghan evacuees fleeing the Taliban arrived to resettle in the United States. Eden Prairie residents are among those working hard to welcome over 700 of them to the Twin Cities.
Their resettlement is being supported by the Minnesota Department of Human Services Resettlement Program, Hennepin County, Arrive Ministries, Lutheran Social Services, Minnesota Council of Churches, and the International Institute of Minnesota, plus multiple charities and donors.
These organizations help meet the immediate needs of the families with food, clothing, care, advice, and housing.
Eden Prairie resident Dawn Martin has been volunteering for several weeks through the Salvation Army with the Afghan refugees currently housed on an emergency basis at a hotel in Bloomington.
At first, Martin helped prepare families for moving into their new housing, putting together packages with sheets, towels, dishes, cutlery, toiletries, and more.
She then began to sort donations, organize children’s activities, run errands, deliver meals, and help new arrivals practice their English.
“I’ve done quite a bit of volunteering, and this is hands down my favorite,” Martin said. “I really love the people who I’ve met at the hotel. They are full of hope. With all they’ve been through and have yet to go through, they still have a smile.”
As Martin got to know the residents, she decided to make another special effort: gifting them foods that remind them of home.
“I was thinking about what it would have been like to pack up in short notice,” she said. “Leave your home, most of your belongings, your career, your family — because most of them still have family back in Afghanistan — and come to a place where you don’t know what you’re going to find.
“I was thinking about how it’s new sounds. New smells. New food. New language. New weather. Everything is so different from what they’re used to. I wanted to be able to bring them a taste of home.”
Martin began a small fundraising campaign she called Fruit for Friends, to raise money to help buy fresh fruit as a treat for her new friends.
One day, an interpreter showed Martin photographs of Afghanistan, including one of a pomegranate orchard. “There was a picnic with all of these pomegranate seeds on plates,” she said. “I thought you know what, I’m going to see if I can find some pomegranates and give everybody a pomegranate.”
Pomegranates had just gone out of season, and Martin couldn’t find any in local shops. However, thanks to a helpful grocer at Lunds & Byerlys in St. Louis Park, she managed to score over 200 pomegranates and received a price break on the fruit.
To pay for it, “I did a call out to my coworkers, vendors I work with, friends and family … and the donations started coming in.”
After pomegranates, Martin sourced other foods beloved by the Afghani evacuees to make them feel at home. In total, she delivered 216 pomegranates, 253 pounds of fresh strawberries, 21 pounds of walnuts, and 21 pounds of dried apricots.
Martin included notes with the fruit that said “Welcome home, your new neighbors,” having used Google Translate to convert them into Pashto, Dari, and Farsi. After confirming the translations with interpreters at the hotel, Martin and a friend included them with the fruit.
Everyone was extremely happy to receive the fruit. “By the time we got to the second floor, we were like the Pied Piper,” she said. “We had all of these kids behind us. And we learned how to say pomegranate in Pashto — ‘anari’.”
One man insisted on knowing who brought the fruit and who his “new neighbors” were. “I explained to him it was me and our community, and our state, and we we were really happy that they were here, and we wanted them to feel like they were at home,” she said.
Martin says she’s glad to give her time and talents to support the evacuees, many of whom are having trouble sleeping and are afraid for family members still left behind in Afghanistan. She says one man is working to be reunited with his wife, who had to leave the airport and return home because their baby was so terrified of the gunfire.
Amy Nylander, a writer for EPLN who lives in Eden Prairie and is friends with Martin, has been helping support the new arrivals by collecting new and gently used suitcases.
Families are in the process of transitioning from the hotel to their new homes around the Twin Cities. They need suitcases to transport and store their new belongings.
To solicit donations, Nylander posted about the need on Nextdoor. “We’re delighted that people were willing to come out in the cold and snow to drop off suitcases, by the excellent condition of the luggage, and by the heartfelt generosity of Eden Prairie residents,” Nylander said.
As of mid-February, Nylander had collected 93 suitcases, which Martin delivered to the hotel. Nylander says each family is being given one suitcase while supplies last. “I want to do what I can to ease the transition to a new home for people who have left everything familiar to them in scary circumstances,” Nylander said.
Martin agrees: “I think it’s really important for us to be open to new cultures in our community. These are our new neighbors, and we need to make sure they feel welcome.”
Interested in helping?
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, our state has welcomed 1,091 Afghan evacuees (333 families) since September. Of those, 53% are children 18 or younger, and 45% are 19-50 years of age.
For anyone interested in volunteering or donating to the Afghan refugee resettlement effort, there are many ways to help.
The refugees have come via U.S. military bases in Germany and Virginia via the Operation Allies Program (click link here). Many left Kabul in a rush on the last flights before it fell.
Most are essentially starting their new lives from scratch and need all of the essentials to set up a home. If you’d like to support them, you can visit their Amazon wish list. These items will be delivered to refugees as they move into permanent housing.
Volunteers are still needed to share their time and effort to support the new arrivals. Learn more from the Minnesota Department of Human Services by clicking here and the MN Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans by clicking here.