Dec 17, 2021 - News

Nonprofits scramble to help refugees settle in Des Moines this winter

Illustration of a suitcase with a bandaid on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An influx of Afghan refugees is quickly settling in to Des Moines this winter, creating what nonprofits and volunteers working to get everyone situated describe as a fast-moving, sometimes "chaotic" scene.

  • "We are building the plane while we're flying," said Kerri True-Funk, director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Des Moines.

Driving the news: The week after Thanksgiving, 98 refugees arrived in Des Moines from base camps around the U.S.

  • For perspective, in 2020, only 116 refugees arrived that entire fiscal year from multiple countries.

State of play: Another 200 are expected to arrive between now and mid-February for a total of 380 that USCRI will help, True-Funk said.

  • The federal government asked resettlement agencies to accept more arrivals than initially planned, True-Funk said, creating some stress on staffing.
  • But while there's a slew of challenges facing agencies and refugees as they settle in, True-Funk said there are ways the community can help.

Between the lines: When refugees arrive, they start the process of applying for food stamps and other social services. But it takes time to finalize, which often delays their ability to buy groceries.

  • Meanwhile, USCRI is working to secure permanent housing and is speaking to several apartment landlords.
  • Once the apartments are ready, they'll need to furnish them, but full-size beds have already run out.

How to help: USCRI is looking for volunteers who can shop for families for two months while they wait for their food stamps. For families who received their benefits, USCRI is in need of drivers who can take them to a grocery store and help them navigate the process.

  • They're also looking for Visa or Walmart gift card donations ranging between $25-$50. The requested dollar amount helps families acclimate to the budgets they'll be on with food stamps.
  • Plus: Monetary donations can help furnish the apartments, as well as give families food. You can donate directly on USCRI's website.

The bottom line: While things are extremely busy this holiday season, True-Funk said she's heartened by the many people who have already shown a willingness to help our new neighbors.

  • From Hilal Groceries by Drake to a recent 300-bed donation by Polk County — it's been a December to remember.

Want to volunteer? You can email [email protected].

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