One year ago, Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, invited the women of the Church to participate in the “I Was a Stranger” effort and to “serve the refugees living in your neighborhoods and communities.”
Now a year later, Sister Burton said that some women are asking, “Well, now what this year?” She is quick to remind them that this is an ongoing effort. “When all the refugees are taken care of, we’ll be done,” she said.
The Relief Society general presidency said they are “overwhelmingly happy” with the efforts of the women of the Church in support of this effort in the past year. According to a report from LDS Charities, the Church experienced a record year in terms of humanitarian contributions, expenditures and international partnerships.
The Church has sponsored and executed some “wonderful” projects, Sister Burton said. But what has been truly miraculous are the small and simple ways individuals, families and groups have responded, she added.
Close to 90,000 messages have been posted using the hashtag #iwasastranger. Many of them are recorded on the home page, iwasastranger.lds.org, and reflect the myriad ways people have been reaching out to serve. For example:
• Victoria Saley posted about inviting a refugee family to family home evening. They cut out paper hearts and wrote how they will share love. Then they dipped strawberries and played the piano.
• Courtney Burns, a ward humanitarian aid specialist, posted about collecting afghan squares from the women in her ward who knit and crotchet to be sewn into blankets for refugees in camps in Europe. “I love this work and the women who took the time to serve our refugee brothers and sisters,” she wrote.
• Jamie Cook described taking her children to visit a local preschool/daycare for refugee children. They played games and attempted to help with homework. “I love the way kids are able to make friends so freely,” she wrote. “I’m pretty sure that’s why God has asked us to be ‘like little children.’ ”
• The Suitland Maryland Stake posted about their efforts to coordinate with the Lutheran Social Service National Capitol Area to support refugee resettlement in the Washington, D.C., area. In both a summer youth conference and spring women’s conference, the stake collected items for six types of “welcome kits” for newly arrived refugees: hygiene, cleaning supplies, linens/towels, kitchen supplies, baby items and tableware. Donations were then given to Lutheran Social Services.
• Amanda Ball reported that she tried to evaluate her talents when thinking about how to help the refugee crisis. “I thought I’m good at making cookies.” She decided to organize a bake sale with the help of her daughters to earn money to buy towels and light bulbs for local refugee families.
• Youth in the Cleveland Ohio Stake held what they called a Warm Welcome Coat Drive to collect more than 700 coats in addition to hats, scarves, gloves and blankets from resettled refugees in their area.
• Katie Graham posted about collecting boxes of valentines to give to school-age refugee children for the holiday. “Helping immigrants from other cultures to have the chance to learn about the culture and holidays in the new country they have embraced is a great way to love and #serverefugees,” she wrote.
During her remarks in last week’s women’s session of the 187th Annual General Conference, Sister Burton thanked Relief Society sisters for their service. “My beloved sisters, how we love you and thank you for your tender-hearted and enthusiastic response to the First Presidency’s invitation and the ‘I Was a Stranger’ effort,” she said.
But in addition to expressing her thanks, Sister Burton said she would add the appeal, “Please carry on in this extraordinary effort.”