Central Iowa is springing to action to help Afghan refugees. Here's how you can, too.

Andrea May Sahouri
Des Moines Register

After the Des Moines Register published information on the living conditions of Afghans resettled in Iowa, the community has been stepping up to support resettlement agencies and organizations who have been working hard to get needs met. But agencies remain overwhelmed. 

Here are more details on how you can help:

More:

Where to donate money to help Afghan refugees in Iowa

Monetary donations help with securing housing, food, furniture, and household necessities. These organization are asking for those donations:

Where to donate household supplies and clothing for refugees in Iowa

The Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa coordinates a centralized donation facility to assist local efforts to collect furniture and donations of household items for newly arriving families. The alliance is also looking for volunteers to help load/unload furniture. You can sign up here

Items must be clean and in gently used condition. RACI can currently only accept the following items: 

  • Couches;
  • Dining table and chair sets;
  • Coffee tables;
  • Pots and pans sets;
  • Large mixing bowl sets;
  • Cutting boards;
  • Pack ' Plays or similar cribs;
  • Twin and full sized sheets and comforter sets, particularly twin sets;
  • Plate ware sets, glassware sets, and silverware sets.

Donations are accepted every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at 515 16th Street in Des Moines, on the east side of the building. The parking lot can be accessed off of 15th street. Questions can be directed to Stephanie@RefugeeAllianceOfCentralIowa.org.

USCRI also accepts new or gently used household items. They can be dropped off at 1200 University Avenue, Suite 205, in Des Moines.

Both Catholic Charities and and Des Moines Refugee Support have Amazon Wish Lists for household necessities. 

Afghan refugees search through a box of donated shoes in the hallway of an extended stay hotel Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Urbandale. Some refugees have lived as long as four months in an extended stay hotel in Urbandale under special temporary visas, unable to obtain housing in the Des Moines metro or gain any legal assistance to help wives and children still in Afghanistan who remain at risk under Taliban rule.

On May 14, Des Moines Refugee Support is hosting a donation drive at Des Moines' Debra Heights Church, 4025 Lower Beaver, for donations. They are asking for the following items:

  • Spring and summer clothing such as light jackets, hoodies, and long pants;
  • Any baby items, such as strollers, bouncy chairs, car seats, cribs, unopened formula, diapers, and wipes;
  • Kitchen items such as dishes, silverware, and small appliances like toasters and coffee makers;
  • Bedding and towels;
  • Toys and games such as children books, dolls, Barbies, stuffed animals; 
  • Any child-sized sports equipment such as cleats, shinguards, baseball gloves, soccer ball, bikes, helmets, trikes, and scooters.

The Urbandale Community Action Network is also taking donations of the following items: 

  • Laundry pods;
  • Quarters for the hotel laundry facility;
  • New socks and underwear of all sizes;
  • Tennis shoes of all sizes;
  • Personal care items;
  • Feminine hygiene items.

These items can be donated at 3600 75th St in Urbandale, in the lower level of Aldersgate Church, from 8:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Johnston Lions Club is also hosting a donation drive on April 16. Here are the new or lightly used items they seek:

  • Pots and pans;
  • Cooking utensils;
  • Mixing bowls;
  • Kitchen and bath towels;
  • Potholders;
  • Cutting boards;
  • Can openers;
  • Wastebaskets;
  • Twin or full sized comforters;
  • Mops and mop buckets;
  • Brooms and dustpans;
  • Shower curtains and rings;
  • Clothing hangers;
  • Laundry baskets;
  • Rolls of quarters for laundry.

The drive will be held at 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 16 at 6501 Merle Hay Road in Johnston.

Where to donate food to help Afghan refugees

Money helps the most, said Sarah Trone Garriott of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, which provides a food bank and other services for families in need.

"Most refugee programs are using cash donations to purchase culturally appropriate food or can provide shopping lists to volunteers. Reach out to individual programs to see what would help most," Trone Garriott said.

Cash donations to DMARC can be made online. DMARC is also currently accepting donations of basmati rice, which is more expensive and most requested, Trone Garriot said.

Contact Nisha Kishor to volunteer with DMARC or plan a food drive at nkishor@dmarcunited.org or 515-277-6969.

Donations of rice, money, or toiletries — including laundry detergent, dish soap, toilet paper, and diapers — can be dropped off at 100 Army Post Road  in Des Moines at the warehouse entrance on the west side of the building Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.Resettlement agencies cannot accept food donations, so they partner with DMARC to provide food to families and ask for cash donations or gift cards to grocery stores like Hilal Groceries.

Halal and culturally appropriate foods can be purchased from the Afghan Halal Supermarket in West Des Moines, Aws's Mediterranean Market in Windsor Heights, or Hilal Groceries in the Drake Neighborhood as well as other places. 

More food assistance options are available within Catholic Charities programing. 

How to volunteer to help refugees

In one room of an extended stay hotel in Urbandale, men who say they risked their lives assisting U.S. coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan describe feeling abandoned once they arrived in Iowa. Some have lived as long as four months in an extended stay hotel in Urbandale under special temporary visas, unable to obtain housing in the Des Moines metro or gain any legal assistance to help wives and children still in Afghanistan who remain at risk under Taliban rule.

Resettlement agencies are overwhelmed. They need the help of volunteers. 

LSI is in need of volunteers to help set up housing, bus trainings, orientations to the community, and more. To get involved in volunteer opportunities within LSI, email Meghan.Smith@LSIowa.org. More information can be found on its website.

USCRI also needs volunteers to help set up apartments, prepare refugees for job readiness, take clients to doctors or other appointments and help them learn how to use the bus system. USCRI can be reached in Des Moines by calling 515-528-7525. To volunteer, email volunteer@uscri-desmoines.org.

Volunteer with Catholic Charities by contacting Holly Ackermann at 515-237-5027 or hackermann@catholiccharitiesdm.org.

Des Moines Refugee Support helps bridge the gaps in services in refugee resettlement. To volunteer, email the organization at desmoinesrefugee@gmail.com.

To volunteer with DMARC and help with their food pantry, contact Nisha Kishor at nkishor@dmarcunited.org or 515-277-6969.

 To volunteer with resettlement agencies and grocery shop for culturally appropriate food:

How to help with housing for refugees

Finding affordable housing has been a huge challenge for resettlement agencies, particularly homes with three or more bedrooms for larger families and on a regular DART bus route.

LSI is looking for any leads on housing. If you have a lead, contact Nancy.Strutzenberg@lsiowa.org.

RACI is also on the hunt for affordable housing. Many of the families arriving are large. If you know of suitable rentals that are currently available or soon will be, let RACI know at stephanie@refugeeallianceofcentraliowa.org. 

Muqadas Ibrahimi, 14, a refugee from Afghanistan, listens to her mother speak inside their room at an extended stay hotel Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Urbandale. Some refugees have lived as long as four months in an extended-stay hotel in Urbandale under special temporary visas, unable to obtain housing in the Des Moines metro or gain any legal assistance to help other family members still in Afghanistan who remain at risk under Taliban rule.

Other ways to help Afghan refugees in Iowa

"If you meet a recent arrival in the community from Afghanistan or any other country and you have questions about how you can be helpful, please reach out to their resettlement agency to see how you can best assist," said Nick Wuertz of LSI. 

Wuertz also encouraged landlords and Airbnb hosts to get to know their Afghan tenants and show them around the city.

Agencies like LSI say there are also inappropriate ways of helping, such as:

  • Simply dumping things on people;
  • Donations filled with bed bugs;
  • Helping without offering dignity and respect;
  • Taking and posting unwanted pictures;
  • Not taking the time to understand the resettlement process;
  • Not approaching resettlement agencies and others helping with cooperation and respect.

Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at asahouri@registermedia.com, on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone 515-284-8247.