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PC(USA)’s Compassion, Peace & Justice staff aids Louisville refugees

Employees sort donations at Kentucky Refugee Ministries warehouse

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Compassion, Peace & Justice staff members navigate one of the rooms filled with dishes at Kentucky Refugee Ministries. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — “What do you think?” Rob Fohr, director of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), asked after surveying the multi-room warehouse packed with household supplies.

“I think there’s a lot to do,” replied Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

The leaders of two of PC(USA)’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries stood among a rippling lake of bedding on one side and a sea of chairs and other furniture items in various states of repair on the other. Added to the mix were dishes, cutlery, toys, medical supplies and many other items intended to help refugee families resettling in Louisville.

Horton and Fohr were part of a nearly 40-person CPJ crew that took time out of staff meetings this week to help Kentucky Refugee Ministries sort donations so they could quickly be distributed to refugee families when they arrived in the River City, often with just a few days’ or hours’ notice.

Giving the staff instructions, KRM donation coordinator Daynier Adan said he needed items sorted so that when he gets notice that, say, a family of five with two parents and three children, including a baby, are on the way, he can grab the necessary number of sheets, dishes, furniture, and the like to quickly set up a new home for their arrival.

“I always want to remind people that this is going to a real person’s home, and whether they have the right items is going to affect how they view this city in their first few hours here,” Adan told the CPJ volunteers.

Then the staff quickly divided and went to work.

“We felt it is really important to be part of this community,” CPJ director Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness said. “The staff at CPJ take their calling very seriously. Big fancy Christmas parties are not where our staff is.

“This is part of who we are as Presbyterians … It’s part of our DNA.”

While a number of PC(USA) entities, including numerous CPJ ministries such as the Office of Public Witness and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, deal with immigration issues, Lisherness said work with KRM, which has strong ties to numerous PC(USA) congregations in Kentucky, is a way Presbyterians can care for refugees once they are in the United States.

Adan knows that very well. It was 15 years ago he and his family arrived in Louisville, after a last-minute rerouting from Pennsylvania, to start a new life after fleeing Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba.

“It was the first time I had ever been really cold,” Adan said. “The parka that I got from KRM I still wear.”

Cold weather items, particularly for children, are some of the top donations that Kentucky Refugee Ministries currently needs, particularly since many refugees come from climates warmer than Kentucky’s.

“Everything to do with winter,” Adan said, along with items for babies. “You cannot imagine how far a pack of diapers will go.”

While he said the flow of refugees has decreased dramatically in the past couple years as the Trump administration has imposed new limits on immigration, Adan said the needs remain. The Louisville community has responded with donations and groups of volunteers like the CPJ staff.

“Without the volunteers, we would have to stop,” he said. “Louisville has been doing for us what our state department and president hasn’t done in two years.”

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