This holiday season finds us confronting painful headlines—and disturbing inequalities. As those of us enjoying some stability feel grateful for the roofs over our heads and the food on our tables, we think of others who lack these things. The crisis of the Syrian refugees, which has only grown in intensity since the recent attacks in Paris, leaves many of us feeling helpless.
But take heart: There is actually a good amount we can do.
Monetary donations, of course, are always welcome by groups working to help; reliable and well-reviewed charities can be identified through Charity Navigator. However, money is not all that you can give. From knitted or crocheted clothes and blankets to homemade videos, many specific—and affordable—contributions are being requested by aid groups to support their work. And when you have five minutes, you can help by making one phone call.
Here’s a look at ways in which we can all get involved.
Is your baby outgrowing her gear? California-based Carry the Future accepts donations of “clean, gently used structured baby carriers” (such as Bjorns and Ergos) so that refugee parents can more easily carry their small children as they travel. Volunteers are also welcome, for carrier-collection days and other events.
The Migrant Offshore Aid Station works to prevent loss of life at sea during refugee voyages. Their team includes medical staff and experienced maritime officers. To raise awareness of their work, you can join their video campaign. Record yourself explaining your reasons for support by completing the phrase “I care because…”—then Tweet the video to the group (@moas_eu) or tag them on Facebook, with the hashtag #ICareBecause.
Blogger and international traveler Jaz O’Hara and her family are currently living near a Syrian refugee camp in the area of Calais, France. Through their organization, The Worldwide Tribe, they are visiting the camp regularly to, they explain, “document the real stories behind the headlines” and help the refugees get their bearings. They are currently helping to bring WiFi to the camp and to facilitate soccer games for the refugee children, among other projects. This organization is notable for its small size and near total absence of bureaucracy. Supporters can email O’Hara personally (firstname.lastname@example.org) to see how they might be able to help at any given time.
Hand in Hand for Syria takes emergency aid to those within Syria and helps people stay in the country rather than fleeing. They supply food, clothing, water, and medical assistance. Knitters and crocheters, get ready: Through their Knit/Crochet for Syria program, they accept new knitted or crocheted clothing in sizes newborn to adult. Their site states that “the number of premature babies born in Syria has skyrocketed from 19% of all births in 2011 to 45% in 2013, so we also need tiny woolen clothing to fit premature babies.” Blankets, especially baby blankets, are needed as well.
The Karam Foundation is a U.S. group that works with Syrian refugees in Turkey. The foundation makes contributing easy by selling soaps on their site made by refugee women in Damascus, who then support themselves and their families with the proceeds. As the holidays approach, this is a useful and distinctive gift that can help sustain lives.
The International Rescue Committee helps refugees all over the world, including in the U.S. They operate in 26 cities across the country and regularly use volunteers. For green thumbs and nature lovers, one opportunity involves working with refugees in community vegetable gardens. The group’s local offices also collect donations of goods, from gently used clothing to housewares and electronics, that the refugee communities have need for. (Each community has specific needs, so check site for what to donate where.)
This brings us to the issue of which refugees will or will not be allowed legal entry to the U.S. Check this list to see where your congressional representatives stand on the issue of admitting Syrian refugees. If you’d like to call their offices to discuss their votes and express your views, phone numbers are also provided.
Happy holidays; and may we see greater and lasting peace in the new year.
Pamela Grossman lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been published in outlets such as the “Village Voice,” Time.com, “Ms.,” Salon.com, and “Real Simple.” She believes in the tremendous power of everyone pitching in.