This past weekend my Jr./Sr. High group completed it's November service project which was a winter wear drive for the Refugee Center in Utica. I know I have mentioned on here that the Refugee Center is a 2nd stop on the way to settlement for Refugees. Some people stay here and some go, but initially this is where they are until that decision is made.
Many of the families that we are getting now are from the countries whose conflicts have driven them out. Burma and Somalia are the most recent. These people arrive with nothing or at most, very little. They arrive to a climate dramatically different than what they have lived in their whole lives. For example, this week our low temperature was zero. Winter has come early to CNY and it feels more like January than November. So this coat drive, which a teacher suggested, was timely.
In the end, we collected over 350 articles of clothing. The lesson for the kids was to remember that we are here to serve and that we need to look at people who are in dire circumstances as people and not just images. That scratchy wool will touch someone's skin...those gloves will protect someone's hands. Remember the person with a mind of hospitality which means; if it is ripped, dirty or too worn do not send it.
The kids did wonderfully, really examining items. I took 3 large bags of coats to launder and they were right, they needed cleaning. One thing I asked was that they take a moment as they were holding the item and maybe say a prayer or a blessing. I don't know who did, but I have a suspicion some did. For the first weeks group I showed this video as part of the prayer.
My goal is for these kids to understand that they can make the difference. No one has to start an organization to make that difference it can happen just by seeing our newest members in our community and welcoming them we can ease the stress of the situation. That in doing so we are keeping the greatest commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Already the coats have been put to use. Imagine a simple thing like gloves to work in, or a coat that is your size and your gender. If we looked at each other with dignity as we are called to do, imagine how the world would change.
In Pope Francis's recent encyclical we are called to just such a place of conversion. We are called to dwell in the Gospels which calls for changes in structure. I am hoping that this next generation will be the ones who see the injustice and don't look away opted instead for the third house with a pool and six cars. I am hoping that this is the generation that allows compassion to win over the hearts of the greedy.
We start small; a message, a wave and some warm gloves. Peace is what will really trickle down in the end.