App, Facebook pages make it easier to help refugees

Refugee Support hosted a pickup in Salt Lake City, where refugee families can pick up items and supplies they need. Refugee Support’s Facebook page posted this photo of a young refugee girl whose “giggles and delights” kept volunteers smiling (Joanna Olson).

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have asked members to help refugees around the world. Although many are willing to help out refugees, some don’t know exactly how or where to start.

Fortunately, organizations in Utah allow students to volunteer and help refugees without having to leave the country. The Utah Refugee Center launched the The Serve Refugees app in early April. The app gives students the chance to help refugees without having to leave the house.

The app gives users the option to make a difference by choosing to learn, serve, or give. The “learn” tab contains 12 activities that encourage users to read and share articles about refugees on social media.

The “serve” tab includes various service project ideas, from creating a refugee welcome sign to sorting donations at a drop-off location in Salt Lake City. Each activity includes an estimate of how long the task would take and gives location suggestions.

The “give” tab shows users what refugee families need. Most items the Utah Refugee Center ask for are cleaning products, coats and jackets, school supplies and hygiene kits. Most donation drop-off centers are in the Granite School District in Salt Lake City.

Each activity from the app will reward users with minutes that go towards prizes. Users can also earn “Karma” points that can be used to enter giveaways within the app.

The Utah Refugee Center is also looking for multilingual volunteers to help out their back-to-school event with refugees. Interpreters will help families fill out basic paperwork to register for school and provide information and resources for dental hygiene, free eye examinations and immunizations. This activity will have games, treats, and the opportunity to meet refugee families.

The Facebook page Refugee Support is another group that centralizes in helping refugees in Utah. Refugee Support was started by Joanna Olson and her family after they watched the General Relief Society Session in April 2016. Olson wanted to serve refugees and make it easier for people in Utah County to help as well. She did extensive research on finding out how to serve refugees in Utah.

Olson works with 75-year-old Don Ward who regularly visits apartment complexes in Salt Lake City that shelter over 200 refugee families. Most refugees come into the country with only the clothes on their backs — a lot of times without any shoes.

Olson has received donations of every kind, ranging from hygiene kits, buckets with cleaning supplies, fans and diapers. She also wants people to know that even just one dollar can go a long ways for refugees.

“Some people just bring a (single) toothbrush, and I love it when they do that because it means, ‘I can make a difference, even on my scale,'” Olson said.

Both Olson and Ward collect donations for refugees at their homes. According to Olson, Ward likes to take families up to Salt Lake City on Sundays and Mondays to make quick visits with refugees and to deliver donations. Olson said the best way to contact Ward is by adding him as a friend on Facebook.

Olson’s Facebook page has more details on how to help refugees and what items they need. She updates the Facebook page with pictures and encourages people to contact her.

“We aren’t an organization, we just want to make a difference and help in a simple way,” Olson said.

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