On a recent June afternoon, the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, located on 5th Avenue, between West 11th and West 12th Streets, invited passersby onto its shaded lawn for a celebration of World Refugee Day. With live world music and free food from Eat Offbeat, the event commemorated the contributions and struggles of refugees in communities around the world, including New York City. “Many people don’t realize that families are being resettled right here,” remarked Jill Hilbrenner, one of the organizers. “There are little ways people can pitch in to help them feel more welcome.”
Established by a United Nations resolution nearly two decades ago, World Refugee Day has gained new prominence and purpose in the current political climate. As Nicole Stansifer, the Director of Outreach and Service at First Presbyterian, put it, “Our hope this year is not only to honor the contributions of refugees, but…to connect members of the community who want to get more directly involved with the organizations who need their assistance now more than ever.” Along with information on First Presbyterian’s own refugee resettlement program, there were information tables from the Queer Deportee Empowerment Project (QDEP), International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), RIF Asylum Support, Church World Services, and Eat Offbeat, a catering company that delivers ethnic dishes prepared by refugees.
Bonnie Woit, whose husband was a Latvian refugee after World War II, made a point of attending the event. She noted parallels between her husband’s experience and the current refugee crisis—with one significant difference. When the number of refugees swelled in the 1940s, she remembers the United States working to welcome more displaced persons, not fewer. Despite her disappointment with the current governmental response, Ms. Woit noted her appreciation of churches and community groups as they step up their efforts, taking a strong, positive stand against the negative rhetoric of the current administration. This event gave Ms. Woit an opportunity to show her support for such efforts, while also enjoying a warm afternoon on the church lawn, talking to new people and listening to music with her dog.
For more information on local refugee programs and how to get involved, please visit the following websites:
First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York (fpcnyc.org)
International Refugee Assistance Project (refugeerights.org)
RIF Asylum (rifnyc.org)
Eat Offbeat (eatoffbeat.com)
Church World Services (cwsglobal.org)
Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (qdep.org)