Additional Resource

Mormons in Maryland Bring Relief to Refugees

A recent refugee explained the real-life drama of immigrating to the United States at an event in Maryland focused on helping refugees.

“The gang members took me to an empty soccer field and beat me with a baseball bat,” Alberto said (name has been changed). “Then they threatened to kill me.” He described how this incident forced him to embark on a perilous journey from his home in Central America for a new beginning in the United States.


Alberto’s story was just one of several heart-wrenching tales heard at a refugee fair hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gaithersburg, Maryland, under the faith’s program “I Was a Stranger.”

The event focused on assembling welcome kits for refugees and educating members of the community on how they could help those fleeing violence and disorder abroad. In partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization Human Rights First, 19 refugees will have the opportunity to receive asylum in the U.S.

“Speaking face to face with people who have gone through such brutal ordeals really makes you think of the parable of the good Samaritan,” said local attorney Gary Ashcroft. “Just as the Samaritan reached across cultural, national and linguistic divides to assist a man who was ‘foreign’ to him, so we are helping these good people overcome their tragic pasts and join in our great multicultural American experiment.”

The fair provided hundreds of refugees with basic necessities, including a toothbrush and comb, bed sheets and laundry detergent, which were gathered by Latter-day Saints and other community members. Volunteers also donated 86 women’s kits to the International Rescue Committee, 86 toiletry kits to Catholic Charities and 26 linen kits and 86 toiletry kits to Lutheran Social Services.

Volunteer and fair attendee Mafi Gnatiko said the refugees’ experiences hit close to home for her. Gnatiko explained she came to America with her family as a child. “I’m an immigrant,” she said. “I know how rough it was for us.”

In addition to assembling kits, fair attendees learned how they could help refugees by talking to representatives from local and regional nonprofits. One such representative, Seme Ayane, a program coordinator for Catholic Charities, first came to the U.S. as a refugee himself. With tears in his eyes, Ayane described being granted asylum by the United States in 2001 and how that process inspired him to work for Catholic Charities, where he helps other refugees adjust to life in America. “I’m a Protestant,” he stated. “You don’t have to be Catholic to work for Catholic Charities.”

The organization Liberty’s Promise, another information source, educated attendees about the importance of providing immigrant youth with opportunities for education and meaningful careers. In their mission statement, Liberty’s Promise describes their goal: “Our programs aim to make the immigrant experience an affirmative one for young newcomers while instilling in them a sense of pride and support for American ideals of democracy and freedom.”

Assembling the welcome kits also enabled Mormons to work with local community residents. When a teacher at JFK High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, learned about the fair, she encouraged the schools in her district to participate. The teacher set up a drive to collect welcome kit items in her classroom. The teacher said most of the donations came from her ESL students (English as a second language), who also wrote notes of encouragement to the refugees.

For those wishing to help refugees but don’t know where to start, the volunteers’ advice was unanimous: find out what local programs are already helping refugees in your community, and ask them how you can help.

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