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Church efforts in Arizona help migrants, refugees from around the world

‘We’ve got some amazing people here that want to give so much’

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have served the influx of refugees and migrants entering Arizona in recent years, they have hoped that they are following the Savior’s example to provide relief.

“The needs are very basic,” said Arizona JustServe director Ruth Pagán. “When you think about Matthew 25:35-40, the Lord is saying, ‘When I was an hungered, you brought me food. When I was naked, you clothed me.’ These are really basic needs people have.”

She said this resonates with Church members and JustServe volunteers because they can imagine what it would be like to be hungry or not have food to give to their children. They can imagine what it would be like to be on a street or in a tent outside in the heat, or traveling for miles in unclean clothes.

“All those things are very basic, but people can relate to this in a personal way because we all need those things,” Pagán said. “All of these people are God’s children, and they are all deserving. They have human dignity.”

A group of refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia gather for a photo after applying for citizenship in Mesa, Arizona.
A group of refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia gather for a photo after applying for citizenship in May 2019 at the Church’s immigration welcome center in Mesa, Arizona. All the refugees have since become citizens. | Provided by Ruth Pagán

Earlier this year, during a community refugee support meeting in Phoenix, representatives with the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration wanted to know what kinds of efforts had been happening in the area to help refugees coming from Africa, Afghanistan and Ukraine and migrants seeking asylum.

The bureau is the humanitarian bureau of the U.S. State Department. Refugee resettlement and refugee-serving agencies were invited to the meeting, such as International Rescue Committee, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services

Pagán was in the meeting as well to represent the Church. She explained how the Church works with these other agencies to provide relief — food, clothing, supplies and resources to those in need.

She outlined how Deseret Industries provides community grants for agencies, who can then give their clients vouchers to use for clothing, bedding and other items. DI also provides job training, English classes and job placement services for refugees.

JustServe — a website and app that connects community organizations with volunteers — posted the needs of the resettlement agencies on a specific landing page dedicated just to those refugee-serving efforts in Phoenix. This mobilized members of the Church and the community, explained Pagán.

“It was a great tool so people could go to this one landing page on JustServe and find out how to help.”

Some of those JustServe projects have included moving furniture into a new apartment, donating goods, being a mentor, fostering unaccompanied minors and making welcome videos for teenagers.

The Church is also involved with the Welcome Center in Phoenix, which helps provide services to meet humanitarian needs of migrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

And recently three young single adult stakes in the area took part in a Project Connect event, where they helped over 100 people experiencing homelessness find food, clothing and other resources.

Volunteer Julianna Larsen with two young refugee children in Phoenix.
Volunteer Julianna Larsen with two young refugee children at the Somali-American United Council’s pre-school in Phoenix, Arizona, September 2022. | Provided by Ruth Pagán

Pagán said the representatives from the State Department wanted to know if there was volunteer fatigue. So many migrants and refugees are coming into the state with a lot of needs. JustServe volunteers were either individuals or small groups, but full stakes in the area also served on a larger scale — providing meals for 300 people at a time for example.

All of this happening during pandemic restrictions and high inflation and housing uncertainty became overwhelming for some people, Pagán said. 

“But everyone is so willing to help, too, with a really big heart and a lot of love for people in need. We’ve got some amazing people here that want to give so much,” she said. “I reiterated there will always be people who help and want to help.”

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