The Restart Kit is where Refugee Care Collective began, and it remains foundational to our work today because of the larger message it sends. It is what set everything that has transpired over the last five years into motion Restart Kit paved the way for all that has transpired these past five years.
Five years ago, we asked the question, “What would it look like to truly welcome refugee families to Portland? How could we help a family to feel loved and safe the moment they stepped off the plane? What if they could feel the impact of being supported not only by a single paid worker, but by an entire community of Portlanders?
Most refugee families come to the United States with nothing but the contents of a few suitcases, and many of these families have limited knowledge of the English language, with no support network or community upon arrival. When the official government refugee programs were instated in 1980, they were never intended to meet all the needs of refugee families – that gap was to be filled by the community. Over the decades, support slowly dwindled, rent increased, and government funding decreased. Today, the gap in care is greater than ever. Refugee Care Collective helps replace what the world has taken from these families.
Thanks to the giving and support of our community, when refugee families arrive today, they are greeted to an apartment with new bedding, and a bathroom with shower curtains, clean towels and toiletries. They are able to wake up to a kitchen with essential cookware, potholders, and dishes. These Restart Kits do so much more than provide for these tangible needs, they send a radically different message to our new neighbors – that while they may be foreigners, they are not strangers.
Many newcomers to Portland don’t know how they’ll be received – if they’ll be welcomed or if people would wish they wouldn’t have come. The heart of Restart Kits is to not only provide these families with their immediate, essential needs, but to send a powerful message of welcome and of hope – to let them know that they are seen, they are wanted, and they are loved. To let them know they have a community who cares about their wellbeing, and to show them that they aren’t alone. It says to them that people who will never meet you value you enough to give this gift.
We’ve seen a little girl from Iraq joyfully hold a bottle of hand soap up in the air. We’ve seen a single mother from Afghanistan excitedly take new dishes out of the box to serve treats to those that welcomed her. We’ve seen teenage boys from the Congo immediately grab the soccer ball and begin playing and laughing in their apartment hallway, while their sister curled up with her new throw blanket.
To date, Refugee Care Collective has assembled and distributed over 2,700 Restart Kits to hundreds of families, resulting in over $520,000 of value. Almost every kit contains a welcome note inside, letting these families know that “Portland is better with you here.” These kits are the result of hundreds of communities – churches, schools, and businesses –and of course, families and individuals, coming together, reminding us that its small actions that change realities.