A taste of home for new residents of Minnesota

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Between September 2021 and mid-February, approximately 74,000 Afghan evacuees fleeing the Taliban arrived to resettle in the United States. Eden Prairie residents are among those working hard to welcome more than 700 of them to the Twin Cities.

Their resettlement is supported by the Minnesota Department of Social Services Resettlement Program, Hennepin County, Arrive Ministries, Lutheran Social Services, Minnesota Council of Churches, and the Minnesota International Institute, as well as many charities and donors.

These organizations help meet families’ immediate needs for food, clothing, care, counseling and shelter.

Eden Prairie resident Dawn Martin has been volunteering for several weeks through the Salvation Army with Afghan refugees currently in emergency accommodation at a hotel in Bloomington.

At the start, Martin helped prepare the families to move into their new homes, preparing packages with linens, towels, crockery, cutlery, toiletries, etc.

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She then started sorting donations, organizing activities for children, running errands, delivering meals and helping newcomers practice their English.

“I’ve done quite a bit of volunteering, and this is by far my favorite,” Martin said. “I really like the people I met at the hotel. They are full of hope. With all they’ve been through and still have to go through, they’re still smiling.

As Martin got to know the residents, she decided to make another special effort: to offer them foods that reminded them of home.

“I was thinking what it would have been like to pack my bags on short notice,” she said. “Leave your home, most of your possessions, your career, your family — because most of them still have family in Afghanistan — and come to a place where you don’t know what you’re going to find.

“I was thinking about how this new one sounds. New smells. New food. New language. New weather. Everything is so different from what they are used to. I wanted to be able to bring them a taste of home.

Martin started 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 these pomegranate seeds on plates,” she said. “I thought you know what, I’m going to see if I can find some grenades and give everyone a grenade.”

Pomegranates had just come out of season and Martin couldn’t find any in local stores. However, thanks to a helpful grocer from Lunds & Byerlys in St. Louis Park, she managed to harvest over 200 pomegranates and got a discount on the price of the fruit.

To pay, “I called my coworkers, the vendors I work with, my friends and family…and the donations started coming in.”

After the pomegranates, Martin procured other foods popular with Afghan 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 saying “Welcome home, your new neighbours”, after using 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 fruits. “By the time we got to the second floor, we were like the Pied Piper,” she said. “We had all these children behind us. And we learned how to say pomegranate in Pashto – “anari”.

One man insisted on knowing who was bringing the fruit and who his “new neighbours” were. “I explained to him that it was me and our community, and our state, and we were really happy that they were here, and we wanted them to feel at home,” she said.

Martin says she is happy to volunteer her time and talents to support evacuees, many of whom are struggling to sleep and fear for their family members left behind in Afghanistan. She says a man is working to find his wife, who had to leave the airport and go home because their baby was so terrified of the gunshots.

Amy Nylander, a writer for EPLN who lives in Eden Prairie and is friends with Martin, helped support the newcomers by collecting new and lightly used suitcases.

New and lightly used suitcases were collected by residents of Eden Prairie to offer to new Afghan arrivals in the Twin Cities. Photo by Amy Nylander

Families are moving from the hotel to their new homes around the Twin Cities. They need suitcases to transport and store their new things.

To solicit donations, Nylander posted about the need on Nextdoor. “We are delighted that people have agreed to come out in the cold and snow to drop off their bags, by the excellent condition of the luggage and by the sincere generosity of the residents of Eden Prairie,” said Nylander.

By mid-February, Nylander had collected 93 suitcases, which Martin delivered to the hotel. Nylander says each family gets one suitcase while supplies last. “I want to do what I can to make the transition to a new home easier for people who have left behind everything familiar in frightening circumstances,” Nylander said.

Martin agrees: “I think it’s really important for us to be open to new cultures in our community. They are our new neighbors and we need to make sure they feel welcome.

Interested in helping?

According to the Minnesota Department of Social Services, our state has received 1,091 Afghan evacuees (333 families) since September. Among them, 53% are children aged 18 or under and 45% are between 19 and 50 years old.

For anyone interested in volunteering or donating to the Afghan refugee resettlement effort, there are many ways to help.

The refugees arrived via US military bases in Germany and Virginia via the Operation Allies program (click on the link here). Many left Kabul in a hurry on the last flights before it fell.

Most basically start their new lives from scratch and need all the essentials to create a home. If you want to support them, you can visit their Amazon Wish List. These items will be delivered to refugees when they move into permanent accommodation.

Volunteers are always needed to share their time and effort to support newcomers. Learn more about the Minnesota Department of Social Services by clicking here and the MN Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans by clicking here.

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