Draper warehouse turns out labor of love for Afghan refugeesJan 31, 2022 02:18PM ● By Justin Adams
Volunteers from Overstock.com in Utah met at a warehouse in Draper on Jan. 14 to assemble tables that had been donated for Afghan refugees arriving in Salt Lake. They will be distributed by International Rescue Committee. (Jonathan Lo/Overstock.com Utah)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Recalling the national footage of the major evacuation of Afghan refugees last August, Jonathan Lo of Overstock.com in Utah said, “Our hearts were tugged.” Thankfully, as director of the local Overstock Cares program, he was in a position to help those Afghans who were relocated to Utah.
Lo helped organize a project that combined the efforts of his company, International Rescue Committee of Salt Lake, and Catholic Community Services. On Jan. 14, volunteers met at a donated warehouse in Draper to assemble tables donated to refugee families.
The idea of the table is both practical and symbolic. “A table gives families a gathering place, and we want every refugee who is resettled in Utah to have a seat at their table and at our table as a community,” Lo said.
Lo said Overstock.com has a paid volunteer leave program. Several of their employees used paid volunteer leave to assemble the tables and chairs.
“It wasn’t hard to find people who were willing to help. They signed up quickly and just dove in. They were fast and efficient and got several sets assembled this morning,” Lo said.
Helping refugees can feel overwhelming. Lo knew he needed local experts to tell him the best way to be of service.
“We knew we wanted to help, and we could donate the furniture and assemble it. But we needed to find partners in the community who are experts and know how to get the help to the right people,” Lo said.
They found that partner in International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit based in Salt Lake.
“The initial evacuation effort in Afghanistan involved 100,000 refugees. Gov. Cox created a coalition to help those who would be resettled in Utah, and we’ve been part of that coalition,” said Jesse Sheets, development manager for IRC.
Many Utahns watched the desperate efforts of Afghan civilians who wanted to leave Afghanistan when the Taliban took over in August 2021. It also hit close to home for Utah residents, as Ssgt. Taylor Hoover of Sandy was killed in an explosion during the evacuation.
“The initial evacuation moved those refugees to ‘lily pads;’ other refugee camps or military bases that could process them. Now temporary and permanent housing in the US is being set up, and the process in Utah is ongoing,” Sheets said.
Sheets said the table project also involved volunteers from Catholic Community Services, and together their organizations have been able to help the 850+ refugees who will be resettled in Utah.
“We have a group of people who work together to do intake evaluations: health care workers, social workers, people who help with cultural and other needs. And the need for monetary help to fund housing and other essentials is ongoing,” Sheets said.
Sheets said the help from Overstock.com employees was a great contribution, but they still have more furniture to assemble before they can deliver it to all the refugees.
He said IRC is grateful for all the donations that went into this project: the furniture from Overstock.com, the time and manual labor from their employees, the donated warehouse space in Draper from Price Real Estate, and the coordination efforts of CCS.
“We are so grateful, and we want people to know there are always opportunities to serve. If you want to join us and support the efforts of refugees in our area, check our website https://www.rescue.org/united-states/salt-lake-city-ut or email us at [email protected] ,” Sheets said.
The warehouse space in Draper was also filled with donated winter coats and food kits, examples of some of the projects that are already underway with IRC and CCS.
“Our website is updated with the current needs, and everything stays here in Utah and helps our community. Monetary donations are always helpful, too. You can find lots of ways to reach out and let refugees know that in Utah there is a network of people who care about their neighbors,” Sheets said.