A volunteer holds a sign during an airport welcome party in Portland. (Courtesy Catholic Charities)
A volunteer holds a sign during an airport welcome party in Portland. (Courtesy Catholic Charities)

Catholics can help newly arrived Afghan refugees in Oregon by locating housing and jobs and by donating Fred Meyer gift cards for clothing.

Catholic Charities of Oregon, the Jesuits and St. Ignatius Parish so far have teamed up to welcome eight families who fled Afghanistan in August amid the departure of U.S. troops and a takeover by the Taliban. For their safety, the identity and exact location of the refugees are not being made public.

Many who fled the country had helped in the decadeslong American effort to build a stable military and government, a job that may have put them on Taliban hit lists.

The families have temporary housing, and Catholic Charities is seeking apartments for the longer term. What the refugees say they need most urgently now is clothing, which case managers can help them purchase using the gift cards.

By the end of February, Catholic Charities expects about 150 more Afghan refugees will come into its care, said Matthew Westerbeck, who leads the agency’s refugee service efforts.

“They arrive with very little,” Westerbeck said.

Starting in 2017, the United States slowed down refugee entries severely. It’s back up to speed now, including many people from Afghanistan. About 70,000 Afghans have been waiting on military bases around the world to be processed, given legal entrance and placed with a refugee resettlement agency in the United States.

The state of Oregon will help pay for longer-term housing, support Westerbeck calls “instrumental.” Affordable housing is the biggest challenge the refugees will face. Catholic Charities will be reaching out to more parishes that may be able to offer housing and other aid.

Catholic Charities will mount a response for mental health needs. “There has been a lot of trauma,” Westerbeck said. “We hear a lot of stories.”

Most refugees are part of families with children. Catholic Charities caseworkers will help the youngsters enroll in school.

“None of this will be a short-term response,” said Westerbeck. “It needs to be months long and into next year.”

Anyone who has a lead on housing is asked to contact Catholic Charities at refugee@ccoregon.org. Also needed are volunteers who can connect refugees to jobs, tutors and those who can help refugees navigate public transport, shopping and English classes.

“It’s a holistic approach,” said Tracey Mason, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Oregon.

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To help refugees

Catholic Charities is not accepting clothing donations for Afghan refugees at this time and for simplicity asks only for gift cards from Fred Meyer, not other businesses. Gift cards can be mailed to Catholic Charities of Oregon, 2740 SE Powell Blvd. #1, Portland, OR 97202. The agency doesn’t have the capacity for donors to drop cards off.