Refugees typically come to the U.S. after years in a refugee camp and with very few possessions. USCRI relies on generous individuals who spend time helping refugees acclimate to the U.S. and who donate furniture and household items to help make refugees’ new homes cozy and welcoming. We recently spoke with a volunteer in Des Moines who felt inspired to get involved:
My name is Nate Heinrich and I’m from Des Moines, Iowa. Through my job with John Deere, I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and lived in Germany and Singapore. This helped me develop a respect for other cultures and an appreciation of how hard it is to move to a new country. I have a lot of empathy for refugees who come to the U.S. not speaking the language or understanding the culture, and with hardly any possessions.
My wife Sarah and I first got involved with USCRI through the Family/Mentor program. We were assigned a refugee family from Eritrea in 2015 and we’ve gotten to know them well. We were paired together because our kids are the same ages – and the kids really enjoy playing together. The girls make slime, the boys play board games, and their family comes to my son’s basketball games. Of all the things we do with our kids, we’re happiest when we’re spending time with this other family, who have become dear friends.
This year, we decided to get involved in a different way. Here in Des Moines, people put out trash and furniture to be picked up during “Spring Clean Up Week.” We figured it would be a good time to ask for donations. Sarah and I sent out text messages to 20 friends asking for gently used furniture and household items, and in just a week we collected enough to furnish 3 apartments! It really showed me that people love to help, and our friends who don’t have much exposure to other cultures want to get involved and learn more. I took a Friday off from work, picked everything up, and delivered it to USCRI. It feels good to be helping other families and it teaches our kids a positive lesson.
Des Moines is very welcoming to refugees, but we can do more. Once refugees are here, they need help, and I don’t think most people realize this. But once they learn, they are eager to jump in and help. We just need to spread the word and let people know how they can get involved.
“Our team at USCRI Des Moines is grateful to Nate, his family and friends, and volunteers like him who use their personal networks to mobilize and collect household items for new refugee families,” says Carly Ross, director of USCRI’s Des Moines office. “Their generosity allows USCRI families to arrive to a welcoming home already filled with life’s essentials.”
You can help too. Donate items and help welcome refugees and immigrants to the U.S.