Eamon Fahey

Eamon Fahey the director of the International Rescue Committee gives a presentation to Bozeman residents on Friday, Mar. 3. 

Arriving in the United States as a refugee fleeing your home country can be an extremely traumatic and confusing experience. However, a local nonprofit is working to make the transition a little bit easier for refugees and their families coming to Montana.

Gallatin Refugee Connections (GRC), a local refugee support group, will host a Kit Drive in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Soft Landing Missoula. The Gallatin Refugee Connections' 6th annual Kit Drive is happening in Bozeman on Saturday, April 1. The Kit Drive is a collection day in the Gallatin Valley aimed to help refugee families start their new lives in Missoula.

Eamon Fahey, the Director of IRC Missoula, gave a presentation at the Emerson Auditorium last Friday, March 3, to raise awareness for the 2023 drive. During the presentation, Fahey explained what the IRC is and how it provides a much-needed service to refugees in the process of resettlement. 

Resettlement is the next step for refugees after joining a refugee camp in a neighboring country near where they fled. This is a permanent step for people who don’t have the option to return home in the near future, and not everyone gets the opportunity to relocate.

“The resettlement process can be difficult and take up to 10 years,” Fahey said. “Around 1% of refugees actually are able to resettle,” he said. Once refugees have resettled, groups like the IRC can help them adjust to their new lives.

Fahey illustrated this shocking change by explaining what resettlement can be like for people. “Picture arriving on a cold day like today in Missoula from Sub-Saharan Africa. You don’t have a jacket or any essential items for living in a place like this.”

That is where the GRC gets involved. The GRC is a small volunteer organization that exists to create and sustain a welcoming environment for refugees. They were founded in 2017 after the Syrian Refugee Crisis and seek to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis and how Montanans can help.

Their kit drive is meant to provide those refugees with items that will help them transition into living in Montana and the United States in general. Even though this drive aims to help refugees coming to Missoula, Bozeman can still help by donating necessary supplies to the GRC and IRC drive. People are encouraged to drop off donations at the Pilgrim Congregational Church from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on April 1.

Up to April 1, people can drop off these essential items at the designated collection points, which are then taken by the GRC and bundled as “kits” for the refugees by volunteers. Some collection points include Wild Joe's Coffee Spot, Epic Fitness and Steep Mountain Tea House, according to the GRC website.

Once the kits are created and checked, the volunteers load them onto a massive U-Haul to be driven to Missoula. They are then released to the IRC and another partner group, Soft Landing Missoula, to be distributed to the refugees and their families. 

Each kit is specific to different aspects of housing and life in general. One kit is called the “baby kit” and includes a diaper bag, changing pad, baby blanket, baby wipes, and other items. Two other kits are the “queen bedding kit” and a “cleaning kit.” 

The list of items in the kits is given to GRC through the IRC, which maintains relations with state and federal governments. The state department mandates what items are included in the kits and informs the IRC, which then passes that information to the GRC, according to Marty Albini, the Welcome Kit Director for the GRC. 

Patrons can either donate individual items at the collection points or entire kits. Other ways to get involved include signing up to be a volunteer.

Albini said the GRC offers various jobs for volunteers and would love more student involvement. If you want to help out, they will find a spot for you just about anywhere.

If you want a good resume builder, good karma, or just to help Bozeman and Missoula community members, consider volunteering on April 1. 

To find the kit lists and see the GRC’s current projects, go to: https://gallatinrefugeeconnections.org/

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