Students help Afghanistan refugees in this year’s holiday drive

Students+gather+in+the+Plaza+to+help+with+the+holiday+drive.

Mia Hirshfeld

Students gather in the Plaza to help with the holiday drive.

By Emma Chang and Mia Hirshfeld

As the holidays approach, students lined up in the plaza to purchase brownies, peppermint bark and muffins from a bake sale held by senior Ananya Agrawal, raising money for Afghan refugee families.

“My sister loves to bake, and we’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while now,” Agrawal said. “This was the perfect opportunity for a bake sale since we had a great cause to give our earnings to.” 

Student Affairs Council representatives and Community Service officers come together annually to run a holiday drive. This year, advisories collectively donated over $17,600 of cash and checks to support four Afghan refugee families.

Every advisory wrote letters to their assigned family in order to supplement the donations and build a more personal connection. The letters include a message in both Pashto and English so that  the families can understand it.

With everything that is going on in Afghanistan right now, so many families need help and support,” said senior Matthew Perez, Head Prefect and Community Service officer. “We want to be there for them.”

The advisories are donating to a program headed by the YMCA, which aims to make Houston a home for refugee families. 

“This fall, the YMCA helped 200 families in just one week compared to the 200 in total last year,” Community Service Director Marci Bahr said. 

One person from each family assisted U.S. troops in some way, so helping their assimilation into Houston is also the School’s way of giving thanks. 

We want to be there for them.”

— Matthew Perez

Using the student donations, St. John’s is able to resupply the families with all of the necessities that they left behind in Afghanistan.

“A lot of appliances and furniture have been requested by the families,” Perez said. “It’s all stuff that we take for granted and don’t even think about using everyday.”

The School also asked the families if they wanted any additional items besides the essentials. Art supplies were a major request since the families have many young children.

“It’s not just taking care of the needs, but taking care of some of the wants that are going to help them feel more comfortable here,” Bahr said. “I want to organize some cultural situations with them. Maybe we can take them to a ball game or have a picnic at Hermann Park.”

Now that all the items have been bought, Community Service officers and advisory liaisons are spending their free carriers sorting through the purchases. Once all of the items are organized, they  will deliver everything to the families.

“It’s really special because we can see the direct impact we’re making with these big donations and for these families,” Perez said.

In addition to the holiday drives, every summer, St. John’s hosts online tutoring sessions through the Summer Express. Invitations have been extended to every child in the families. The program has helped Afghan refugees in the past, and the community service program looks forward to expanding their connection with the new students.

“I am hoping, with all hope, that we can do some tutoring for the refugee kids,” Bahr said. “The kids just wanted to learn, and the interactions will help expand our knowledge and horizons.”

According to Bahr, this year’s holiday drive is notably relevant to current world events, and many are excited about the impact it will have on Houston society.

“Volunteering at the YMCA is a great way to get involved. I know that the program is really struggling right now to help all of these families,” Perez said. “Get out there and make people aware—it will help so much.”

This story was originally published on The Review on December 16, 2021.