Bonaventure group volunteers to help refugees

By Lian Bunny

Photo Editor

A Cuban couple walks into Saint’s Place, an organization dedicated to helping refugees. The woman is blind, and her husband is severely impaired.

The husband walks over to the closest wall and points. The volunteers try to figure out what he wants.

He continues to point to a small American flag hanging on the wall. The volunteers take the flag off the wall and hand it to him.

He places it over his heart.

“This is what freedom means to me.”

Saint’s Place is a 19-year-old ministry based in Pittsford, New York. The organization provides clothing for refugees, sets up apartments for them and offers them English lessons, according to Isabel Miller, executive director.

She said the group helps about 1,200 refugees a year.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, nine St. Bonaventure students; Chris Brown, director of first-year experience and orientation; and Jeff Sved, director for the Franciscan Center of Social Concern, volunteered at Saint’s Place.

Chris Brown said he thinks many people misunderstand what a refugee is.

“I think it’s very important with trips like this or general conversation to remember that refugees are fleeing danger,” he said. “They don’t pose a danger to us.”

Some group members helped set up two apartments for refugees. They picked up furniture from the warehouse, unloaded the household items and set up the apartments. This included setting up the beds, decorating and unpacking kitchen items.

Percy Brown, a junior theater major who had been to Saint’s Place before, said volunteering was a rewarding experience.

“When you just look at it after it’s done, it just looks like a completely different place,” he said. “And you really think how they’re really going to enjoy a place like this as opposed to sleeping in a tent. They get to sleep in an actual bed. Just the thought of actually them being able to have a new place and enjoy it, it makes it enjoyable.”

Others stayed at the Saint’s Place headquarters to help dress refugees. A family of five from Bhutan came in and each family member received bags to fill with clothing. Volunteers helped them find the clothing they liked in the right sizes.

Miller said Saint’s Place welcomes student volunteers. She also said there’s a big need for donations.

“One of the things that the students can do is take the responsibility to do drives for us. We need coats, we need them in all sizes. A lot of people don’t understand this, but if given food stamps, they do not cover paper goods. They do not cover soap, toothpaste, tooth brush, all hygienic products. So they need to take their money out of that, and that’s tough.”

Sved said he would like to do another day trip to Saint’s Place during the spring semester.

Senior sports studies major Setu Shah said she recommends community service to Bonaventure students.

“I think this is a reminder that you should be thankful for what you have,” she said. “Some people come with nothing and they’re still grateful for what they have. It’s a great reminder to focus on the little things a little more.”

bunnyla13@bonaventure.edu