GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — A local refugee resettlement agency could receive more than 100 Afghan refugees in the coming months.
Karmen Lemke, director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, said their team expects to welcome a total of up to 125 Afghan evacuees between now and the middle of February. She said so far they've received 28 Afghan refugees, including individual males, families and expectant parents.
"We are receiving and welcoming a variety of folks coming to us from many different locations in the country. Not only Fort McCoy, but from some of the other military bases across the country," Lemke said.
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As they prepare to receive new arrivals during colder months, Lemke said the list of needs continues to grow. She said the agency needs to provide warmer clothing, like boots and jackets, for incoming evacuees. Stores like the St. Vincent de Paul Society are working with Catholic Charities to arrange shopping times for Afghan refugees.
The community can help too: Catholic Charities will have an "Amazon Smile Wish List" on their website soon for people to purchase needed items.
"That will help us to communicate with those that want to help, because it's been such an outpouring of folks that want to help," Lemke said.
Volunteers are also needed to help locally. Volunteer opportunities may include taking guests to the grocery store, doctor appointments or to job opportunities. As school-aged children arrive, Lemke said they might need people to help with things like babysitting or setting up play dates. Interested applicants will undergo a background check and training.
"We've had volunteers that have come early on that went down to work at Fort McCoy. But now we're shifting our volunteers to help us here locally as these families come from Fort Mccoy to our location, or from other military bases," Lemke said. "We now have to really look at our resources and help them here as they get settled."
Lemke said they are notified up to a week in advance when an evacuee is arriving. She said the team will often welcome them at the airport before assessing their needs.
"It's important for us to understand what they've come from, what they've walked through," Lemke said. "For some of them, they've left family behind. At some point, their hopes and dreams might be reunification with family members. So down the road, how can we help them with that ultimate goal too."
In the beginning, Lemke said it's all about addressing basic needs for housing, food and clothing. The team will also help children enroll in school.
Community partners help address needs individuals or families face. Lemke said they they work with law enforcement on a cultural orientation so evacuees can understand the community and how to be safe. Dental and medical providers help with initial health screenings.
"Our goal is to get them to reach their goals of sustainability, and to flourish with their families as they begin their new lives in America," Lemke said.
Lemke added housing options, especially long-term or permanent housing, continues to be a challenge. She said some of the new arrivals include large families who will need rentals with three or four bedrooms. People interested in assisting with housing can call 920-272-8234 or visit the Catholic Charities website.
Wisconsin was approved by the federal Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to resettle Afghan evacuees in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wausau, and the Fox Valley, according to a spokesperson from the state Department of Children and Families. Around 150 Afghan refugees have been resettled throughout the state so far.
People interested in making physical or monetary donations can reach out to any of the six refugee resettlement agencies in Wisconsin: