Visit the LIFT website
LIFT - the Lowell Iraqi Families Team - is a group of First Parishioners and friends in other communities who are helping to support Iraqi refugees in Lowell.
I am writing to let everyone know our plans regarding the Lowell Iraqi Families Team (LIFT). For a number of reasons we will be dissolving LIFT as of June 2013, at least in its present form.
The Iraqi community, which has grown from 19 families to more than 60 since First Parish became involved with them in October 2009, is to some extent more self-supporting, the community more mature and able to provide mutual support to incoming families.
While there remain needs that could appropriately be filled by members of a volunteer group such as LIFT, Charlie and Chris are each ready to 'move on' to other pursuits. Charlie is seeking full-time employment which will preclude his spending time on LIFT work. Chris has also added time to her work schedule which leaves less time for her involvement with the newer LIFT families. We both think that so many of the families have adapted well that they are now able to help one another.
The LIFT fund we established to receive donations from First Parish's Social Responsibility Council, parishioners and friends for the benefit of the Iraqi families in Lowell has been instrumental in providing numerous programs for them (e.g. bus passes, bed bug mitigation, winter boots, bicycle locks & helmets, diapers, shopping carts, fans, ESL help and school supplies etc.) The fund has sufficient dollars remaining to provide for these programs through June 2013.
First Parish could continue its leadership role helping to support the Iraqi community beyond June, if someone were willing to step forward to take over the management of LIFT. Charlie and Chris would be happy to talk with anyone about what this would involve, so please contact either of us, if interested. We hope that other churches in the area may also become active with the Iraqi community.
We want to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt thanks to all those who have helped make the LIFT program so effective. You have provided generous donations of your friendship and hospitality, your time, your skills, your strength, your energies, your furniture, your clothing, your help with transportation and, yes, your money. Lasting bonds have been made with many of the Iraqi families and we have all been deeply moved and rewarded by getting to know them.
So, please let us know if you'd be interested in taking over LIFT and keeping this important part of FP's outreach work going. And - regardless of whether or not there is a LIFT group, the Iraqi families in Lowell will still be there and remain a growing and vibrant part of our larger community - they will continue to welcome and benefit from old and new friendships with our parishioners.
Charlie Frean and Chris Rabinowitz
The following article should be read with an understanding that LIFT is no longer actively seeking donations, although we will help anyone seeking to make a donation of any sort by directing them as best we can to possible recipients.
If you would like to learn more about what it would take to assume responsibility for the LIFT Fund and its programs, please contact us. Thank you!
There are over 60 Iraqi families in Lowell at the time of this writing (February 2013). New Iraqi families continue to arrive in Lowell from Iraq and elsewhere at the rate of around one new family each month. There is a wide spectrum of family circumstances, though almost all of them arrive with barely any possessions and little if any money of their own.
Most of the families include kids, ranging in age from 'almost born' to adult! Families have as many as four or five kids, some have none. Some are single mothers. Most speak little or no English, a few speak very good English or other languages, such as German or French. Many of the men and some of the women have been professionals, earning upper-middle incomes with professional qualifications that are effectively worthless here. Almost all working professionals are faced with having to 'start over' by taking often menial, low-paying jobs, making it nigh impossible to support their families.
These families represent the tip of the iceberg, so to speak - there are many hundreds more Iraqi refugees elsewhere in the US, granted refugee status mostly because they have been threatened in their homeland for different reasons.
When they arrive in this country, they are assigned to a location, such as Lowell, usually arbitrarily, provided with an apartment and some furniture, food stamps and limited financial assi stance for a limited number of months and expected to become self-sufficient before this limited time period expires. In the current economic circumstances most of them are unable to find adequate work, despite the best efforts of their assigned resettlement agency, which provides ESL classes, leads for some basic jobs and other services.
Many end up on welfare. Many are unable to meet their rent demands. Most of them have to rely on public transportation or a bicycle to get anywhere in all weathers. A few families manage to acquire a car - sometimes donated by a partner family or a sympathetic friend.
A non-profit organization, based in North Andover, MA - the Merrimack Valley People for Peace - has been providing key support for the refugees since before FP became involved. Mary Todd of MVPP has been the central figure in meeting and greeting new families as they arrive; she normally identifies what they need and emails a list to the other volunteers. We can publicize these needs on our web site's forums. We then attempt to locate the needed items. Mary frequently visits the families to see how they are doing and to answer their questions.
Other members of MVPP, in addition to individuals from surrounding communities (including ours at First Parish in Bedford), contribute their time and energy in supporting the Iraqi families in many ways. Several have attended our FP Lyceums on Iraq and subsequent meetings.
How you can help
So what can we as a conscientious, caring community do to help these people? We have formed LIFT to help focus attention on their plight and as a way to organize ourselves to be more effective. Several members of First Parish are involved, but we need more parishioners to join us to help meet the many needs that keep arising.
We all lead busy lives with many commitments and interests, so the more of us that can get involved, the better job we can collectively do to cover the range of needs.
A prime need is for partner families - a partner family is a local US family who wants to spend time getting to know an Iraqi family, to call them on the phone, meet with them and speak English with them, invite them to share a meal, take them on a trip to the beach, introduce them to your teens, visit them in their home ... Several of the Iraqi families have US partner families in and around Lowell and Bedford. Many have requested partner families but have not yet found one.
Other needs include donations* of clothing and furniture, time and energy, and a willingness to help organize fund-raising events. Funds are needed to cover all kinds of expenses that arise for which the families do not receive any allowances. For example, High School students in Lowell do not get free school bus transportation, even if they live a 45 minute walk from school! A monthly bus pass costs $20 per student, which may not seem like a lot to many parishioners, but represents a significant sum to the Iraqis.
What we have done to date (December 2011)
We have established a LIFT fund, administered by our First Parish treasurer from which we are able to make purchases to benefit the refugee families. First Parishioners have been extremely generous with donations since we have become involved in this relief effort (August 2009).
- FP continues (December 2011) to fund up to 18 High School student bus passes each month (since 2009-10 school year).
- For the third year running we are supplying (through reimbursement of receipted purchases) winter footwear for all Iraqi family members who are in their first year. This has been made possible by grants from the Social Responsibility Council, who in 2009 provided $1,500 to purchase around 50+ pairs of new winter boots and shoes for the winter of 2009. In 2010 the Social Responsibility Council provided a further $1,000 towards our Winter 2010 program, in which we provided 55+ pairs of boots and shoes at a cost of over $1,600. Our Winter 2011 program continues with a further grant from the SRC for $1,000.
- In Summer 2011 LIFT donations have enabled us to purchase bicycle locks and spare parts to refurbish donated bicycles for the refugees.
- In 2011 we have used LIFT funds to purchase basic toolkits to present to incoming refugee families to help them set up their new homes.
- In December 2010 we donated and delivered individual bags of toys to each Iraqi child 12 and under (25 families).
- In November 2010 a $1,000 grant from the Social Responsibility Council enabled us to initiate a Bedbug Infestation Mitigation program to provide low-cost but effective treatment for this unpleasant scourge that is affecting many towns and cities across the nation, including the Iraqi families in Lowell. Continuing support from the SRC has enabled this program to continue through 2011.
- In October 2010 we held a Fund-raising dinner, where many parishioners and friends enjoyed Iraqi cuisine prepared by several of the Iraqi women together with parishioner volunteers.
- In 2009 we were able to donate $100 Christmas gift checks to 20 families. (Our funds were unfortunately unable to repeat this for Christmas 2010 for the now 36+ families).
- A group of parishioners and others meet regularly with groups of Iraqi women to hold English (ESL) conversation classes - these have been a great success.
- Parishioners have lent their trucks, SUVs, minivans and muscles to help pick up and deliver furniture and clothing to Lowell.
This all started when there were just a few families we knew about. Their growing numbers (36+ families as of September 2011) mean that their needs continue and we appeal to parishioners to continue to think about participating in some way with this tremendously worthwhile and challenging outreach program.
What we need
Parishioners willing to join LIFT
We're a fun group of people with loads of stories to tell ... we need your ideas, your suggestions, your energies, your enthusiasm and concern for others. If you would like to help organize a Lyceum or Fund-Raising event (e.g. Pot-Luck Dinner), please contact us.
First Parish families who would like to get to know an Iraqi family
The experience of several partner families has shown this can be an enriching and uplifting experience for all concerned, adults and children. Mary Todd of Merrimack Valley People for Peace (with whom LIFT volunteers work closely) has written a booklet specifically for current and potential partner families, which is available for download from the LIFT web site (after registration) here.
Donations of furniture etc. & Help with transportation
From a practical point of view, we do not have anywhere to store donations and finding volunteers to manage the logistics of pick-up and delivery has been problematic, so we ask that donors be willing to deliver any furniture and clothing themselves - please see the LIFT Donations Policy on the LIFT web site.
We need volunteers willing to track requests and donations and find matches in our published "Items Needed" list. If you think you can help with this, please get in touch!
Tax-deductible Cash donations
You can help with a check to cover a part of these ongoing requirements. Tax-deductible cash donations can be put to good use towards all kinds of needs. Here are some concrete ways donations can be applied to make a real difference in the lives of the Iraqi refugees:
- $10 represents one umbrella or one basic toolkit
- $20/month represents one Student Bus Pass for one month
- $20 will purchase one effective "Krypton" bicycle lock
- $35 represents one pair of winter boots for one child
- $40 represents one oscillating fan to cool one room
- $40 represents one pair of winter boots for one adult
- $75 represents a twenty-four hour rental of a U-Haul cargo van or pickup truck (two 25 mile trips plus insurance & gas)
- $180 represents one Student Bus Pass for the entire school year
For tax-deductible $ donations, please make checks out to "First Parish in Bedford" with "Iraqi Families Fund" or "LIFT" in the Memo line. Your company may match your donation, so please check if that is the case. Please send your check to First Parish in Bedford, 75 Great Rd. Bedford, MA 01730 or place it in the offertory bag at a Sunday service. If you donate cash, please drop a note along with it.
How to CONTACT US
Visit the LIFT web site, send email to LIFT@iHelpuLearn.com or talk to Charlie Frean or Chris Rabinowitz about ways you can participate.
THANK YOU for any and all contributions! Please note that you can now donate directly to the LIFT fund using the PayPal Donate on the LIFT website! Visit the LIFT website to make a donation.