Interfaith With Impact: HIAS Volunteers Join Multifaith Effort for Syrian Refugees

By Rachel Nusbaum,

In a powerful show of support for Syrian refugees, close to 1,000 volunteers gathered to spend part of their Sunday in the historic 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, assembling personal hygiene kits for those who have fled the Syrian civil war.

Working three different shifts in the hot, cavernous armory, the volunteers assembled and packed 7,500 kits to be shipped to refugees in Turkey. Organizations from a wide variety of faiths–including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs–were represented in what organizers termed “interfaith with impact.

“We were packing up bags full of toiletry-type supplies for women in the refugee camps,” said Wendy Star, a HIAS volunteer. “Each bag consisted of items such as soap, shampoo, washcloths, reusable menstrual pads and combs.”

The event was organized by Heart to Heart International, JDC and the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, with support from organizations like HIAS.

“HIAS was delighted to provide water for the hundreds of volunteers who gave their time for such an important cause on a hot summer day,” said Merrill Zack, Director of Community Engagement Programs at HIAS.

“I found it to be a most rewarding hour,” said Laurel Garron, a HIAS volunteer. “It made me feel part of a larger community. One that is saying to the recipients of these packages, there are people who care about you. You are not forgotten.”

Garron said her family’s experience was part of what compelled her to help. “I am a first generation American. My family came here from Hungary and Russia, and I owe my life to the fact my family was welcomed as refugees and permitted to make their home in a new country.”

Wendy Star said it was the September 2015 photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach that drove her to volunteer. “I was heartbroken for the children and families, and looking for ways to get involved. Other community activists I knew in the Jewish community suggested I reach out to HIAS about volunteering,” Star said. “HIAS, I soon learned, has a rich and wonderful history helping refugees.”

“The volunteers were extremely energetic, and it was very inspiring to see the different groups of people that were brought together on this issue,” Star said. “In my row alone, I met individuals from Catholic Charities, the JCC and a Buddhist organization. It was so very heartwarming joining together with such a diverse group of people who took time out of their Sunday to do this volunteer work.”

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