Garden supervisor Rory Tira buys household supplies to include in welcome baskets for Afghan refugee families. (Photo courtesy of Tira)

Volunteers provide support to Afghan refugees through donations, aid (VIDEO INCLUDED)

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, many Afghan refugees have come to the United States, and many more may make their way here eventually. Some of those refugees have arrived in Sacramento and are receiving support from local organizations and at least two Country Day leaders. 

Garden Supervisor Rory Tira volunteers for the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, and Head of Middle School Rommel Loria serves on the board of trustees for Opening Doors, a refugee resettlement nonprofit. 

Tira has experience organizing drives for those in need. In 2018, she used social media to fundraise for a family affected by the Camp Fire in Paradise.  However, the past weeks have been very different for her.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done something that feels like part of the world stage before,” she said.

Tira collects what the food bank refers to as Welcome Baskets. These can be for the bathroom of a new household — items like cosmetics, toiletries and toilet paper — or for other kinds of supplies that a family would need.

Tira also collects cash donations, which has been far more successful than she had imagined.

“I thought maybe this would be  $500 I would raise. I’m over $4,300 right now,” she said. “I take that money and I go do bulk shopping.”

She got a surprise after one of the trips to the store. 

“In the time I was out, another $150 to $200 came in just while I was shopping,” she said. “It’s just coming in constantly all day.” 

Because of this influx, Tira has not set a goal for cash donations. Instead, she wants to help people feel more connected to the current refugee crisis.

“It’s really common that people feel like something is too big, that they can’t do anything about it,” she said. “This is right here in our city. This is something we can do right now.”

Video by Dylan Margolis, Miles Morrow and Arijit Trivedi

As the chair of the Board External Affairs Committee for Opening Doors, Loria focuses on connecting with media outlets to share information about the refugee resettlement nonprofit. 

“As a trustee, we’re looking at numbers, and we’re asking questions and, ultimately, we’re providing approval for the organization to change,” he said.

This work helps support the wider goal of the organization to provide “wraparound services” to refugee families.

As refugees arrive in Sacramento, volunteers from Opening Doors meet them at the airport and set up apartments for them. 

Wraparound services include long-term help in the weeks and months after arrival. These include mentorship, legal help, aid in school enrollment and a micro-loan program.

“It’s the idea of not just welcoming people but figuring out how do they become self-sufficient, how do they achieve stability,” Loria said. 

Opening Doors keeps a holistic approach to resettlement and aims to help refugee families integrate into Sacramento society.

Opening Doors is looking for additional volunteers to drive families from the Sacramento airport and to help set up apartments. They also have opportunities for other wraparound services, such as providing English as a Second Language tutoring and mentoring.

Tira has the same long-term focus with her efforts and hopes to keep this issue in the spotlight.

High school volunteers helped organize donations, such as soccer balls. (Photo courtesy of Tira)

“It’s kind of a sad reality but when this is out of the news in a few weeks, are people going to still be paying attention?” she asked. “Are they going to still want to donate $100? Are they still going to want to go to Target and buy pots and pans?”

For now, she’s focusing on the specific needs of the community and addressing them.

She hopes to start a back-to-school collection of backpacks, school supplies and other items to help refugees over the upcoming months. “This is our city, we have to pay attention,” she said. “This is on us to act.”

By Samhita Kumar

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