Today, members of the Western New York Refugee & Asylee Consortium (WNYRAC) announced the successful conclusion of their five-month community fundraising campaign, Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees. The conclusion was made possible following a final campaign contribution of $50,000 from The Church of Jesus Christ. The campaign closes after having raised an astounding $950,000.
On September 2, 2021, the five agencies involved in refugee resettlement and healthcare announced a bold initiative to raise $750,000 to support the arrival of 350 Afghan evacuees. Catholic Charities, International Institute of Buffalo, Jericho Road Community Health Center, Jewish Family Services of Western New York, and Journey’s End Refugee Services publicly announced their shared collaboration and commitment to subsidize what the federal government originally would not – the traditional 90 days of resettlement funds afforded to other refugees. At the onset, only 30 days of funding was guaranteed for those who would be classified by the USCIS as humanitarian parolees.
As Afghan evacuees were entering the United States by the thousands during the fall, pressure to and from elected officials led to an increase of financial support by the federal government. As a result, Afghan evacuees would ultimately be provided with the same benefits as any other refugee. But even with improved benefits, as well as an increase from 350 evacuees to more than 650 evacuees destined to Western New York, significant increases in costs related to housing, food, and basic necessities required continued fundraising efforts and a goal that surpassed the original $750,000.
There was an overall feeling that the City of Good Neighbors would recognize the urgency of the crisis and embrace the effort. And they did.
From the launch of the campaign through the new year, more than 925 donations have been recorded.The vast majority of these donations came from individuals, with an average donation of $225. Community groups and private foundations also demonstrated their support through generous contributions. These include the Buffalo Jewish Federation, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Cullen Foundation, Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, Islamic Relief Fund, James H. Cummings Foundation, The John R. Oishei Foundation, M&T Bank Foundation, New York State Health Foundation, and Western New York Foundation.
For Dr. Molly S. Carr, Jewish Family Services CEO and host of today’s press event, the experience has been rewarding and humbling. “We knew that Western New York would deeply understand the circumstances of the evacuees,” she said. “The outpouring of support from all corners has been a truly humbling experience for us all and we are grateful for every kind word, every dollar of support, every in-kind gift, and every hour of volunteer time. We are working hard to ensure the smoothest possible transition for them as they settle into and become part of the fabric of our community.”
Of the total evacuees expected, 450 have arrived to date. Each agency has committed to a number of evacuees that they could support based on available resources.
The Church of Jesus Christ is highlighted today as the final donation that will close out the campaign. When the Church learned that Buffalo was one of the destinations for Afghan evacuees, they were eager to help. At today’s press event, Church representatives presented two checks totaling $50,000 to the International Institute of Buffalo and Journey’s End Refugee Services. These funds will be pooled with existing funds raised and distributed accordingly amongst the agencies.
“We are very appreciative and thank the Church of Jesus Christ for their $25,000 contribution towards welcoming our new Afghan neighbors,” said International Institute Interim Executive Director Jennifer Rizzo-Choi, adding “this generous support will help ensure that we can give our new neighbors the support they need to start their lives in Buffalo. From finding housing to finding employment, the Church’s contribution will have a tremendous impact.”
Since 1985, Latter-day Charities, the humanitarian division of the Church, has been engaged in refugee assistance in more than 120 countries and has immigrant and refugee welcoming centers throughout the United States and Europe.
“We believe that all are beloved children of God,” said Buffalo Region Church President Brad Simpson, adding that “as a worldwide religion, we have a special concern for those who are fleeing physical violence, war and religious persecution. We are thankful to be able to help these individuals and families find and establish safe, stable homes here in Western New York.”
In 2021, the Church supported refugee resettlement agencies in more than 100 countries, with total grants and contributions of $5 million provided for 9,000 refugees. Locally, the Buffalo Metro Region has nine congregations with a combined membership exceeding 3,000 individuals.
For Journey’s End Refugee Services, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a constant supporter of refugee resettlement in the U.S.,” said Executive Director Karen Andolina-Scott, adding “this generous donation will help Journey’s End and our partners ease the trauma of Afghan families who were forced to flee their homes and are rebuilding their lives in Western New York.”
The influx of refugees to Western New York will not cease in 2022. The current administration has increased the annual cap of refugees destined to the United States to 125,000 individuals. No doubt, with a limited number of designated resettlement cities throughout the country, Western New York will receive a significant number, which is yet to be determined.
Those who are interested in following the activities of the Consortium can visit www.wnyrac.org. The information site will be updated periodically with relevant news and ways to get involved. The site will also include links to the member agencies.