By Mark Hicks, The Detroit News
Published March 5, 2022
Housewarming gifts traditionally are seen as tokens to add to a new place. But the ones headed to about 30 households in southeast Michigan over the weekend were a way to not only do that but help families start over.
On Saturday, members of Dawoodi Bohras Community of Detroit and regional congregations under Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined the nonprofit Zaman International to deliver welcome kits to Afghan refugees resettling in the region.
The volunteers fanned out across Washtenaw County with food, silverware, bedding and more for the new residents finding their first homes since fleeing.
The act was both a show of communal generosity and a pledge to give back, coordinators say.
“It shows the powers of groups that are able to come together,” Monica Boomer, chief impact officer at Zaman. “As individual congregations they’re able to do so much but it just grows exponentially when they come together.”
Her group, which is based in Wayne County and officially launched as a nonprofit in 2004, has long collaborated with others to serve the less fortunate and earned renown for its efforts.
In addition to programs providing food, clothing, medications and shelter, Zaman last year worked with the agencies overseeing refugees headed to Michigan from Afghanistan once the military and government fell to the Taliban and American troops departed.
The state was assigned to receive more than 1,600 refugees through last month, with most in southeast Michigan or Metro Detroit.
The 30 households presented housewarming gifts Saturday represent nearly 100 people, including children, Boomer said.
Between 40 to 50 volunteers helped deliver the gifts, said Zainab Hachem, a volunteer with Zaman International who helped load vehicles on Saturday.
“I think it was an amazing turnout,” she said. “We had things ranging from household items like can openers to towels, pots and pants, pillows. I hope that this serves a big impact, especially with Ramadan coming up next month. … Hopefully these items will be of utilization for these families so they can prepare their food and use that as a means of having dinner every night.”
Zaman worked with Samaritas and the other resettlement agencies overseeing them to assess their most pressing and long-term needs.That included “things we take for granted … anything that they would need to really start their journey to permanent housing here in Michigan,” she said.
To stock enough toiletries winter gear, and other items, Zaman worked with its partners as well as the Dawoodi Bohras and Latter-day Saints, which already had relationships.
“Fundamental to our belief is to reach out and help others because we follow Jesus Christ and that’s what he did,” said Rachel Cannon, communications director for the Westland, Michigan Stake in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We’re all children of God. We want to show love to anyone who is in need.”
Donating needed items for the distribution was equally important to the area members of the Dawoodi Bohras, a Muslim community with ties to India.
The effort coincided with the Dawoodi Bohra’s global Project Rise initiative that aims to help others through programs targeting areas such as food security, clean water and education.
“As a community of immigrants ourselves, it’s an honor to be able to support Zaman International’s mission of welcoming our newest neighbors,” said Mariyah Saifuddin of West Bloomfield Township, who is joining the effort and has been active with the local Dawoodi Bohra’s community outreach group.
The congregations rallied volunteers to deliver the gifts over several hours Saturday.
The recipients, who can continue to find help through Zaman services, have faced much adjusting to their new country and transitioning, Boomer said.
“We’ve heard a lot of relief that the families are able to leave the hotels and get started. They’ve been eager to find work, learn English, enroll their kids in schools.”
Staff writer Candice Williams contributed.