This past Saturday night, Bushwick was the setting of a beautiful scene of humanity, a Refugees Welcome community dinner at Iglesia de la Santa Cruz Church’s Bushwick Abbey.
Refugees Welcome is a UNICEF program orchestrated by Purpose, a company that works to help build and support social movements. The events, each hosted by a company or local organization, seek to bring refugees and other displaced people together with non-refugees in their new communities.
“I like it because… you know that you’re not alone,” said a Venezuelan asylum seeker who asked to remain anonymous for the safety of her family back home. We will call her Anna. “There are more people, more histories, more stories. We have a lot of courage here, and we can share how to face [our situations].”
Anna left Venezuela because of an oppressive government and extreme shortage of food and medicine.
“Having no food for your kids,” she said, “having no rights to speak out. Feeling that fear to go out, of your neighbor…”
It was clear that Anna didn’t want to leave Venezuela. She was moved to tears discussing what life was like there, her decision to leave, the extended family members she left behind, and her tenuous situation as an asylum seeker in the U.S. The asylum process is long, complicated, and notably without guarantee.
Anna described it as feeling “like a feather on the air.” Refugees Welcome events give her, her husband, and her young son sorely needed peace, support, and companionship.
This weekend’s Refugees Welcome was hosted by The HUBB BK, a community group and feminist-activist collective, according to co-founder Jenna Hosier.
“We were formed out of the Women’s March in February,” Hosier said. “We came together … trying to figure out what we could do to make a difference.”
Hosier learned about Refugees Welcome through her full-time job as a video editor and decided to pitch the idea of a dinner to The HUBB BK.
“From there we contacted Purpose,” she said. “They were really supportive, getting people here and reaching out to the refugee community, and every little detail, like the nametags and social media graphics they provided us.”
When The HUBB BK decided to hold their Refugees Welcome at Bushwick Abbey, the Reverend Nell B. Archer, the priest in charge of the church, was happy to host.
“It’s so much what I want the church to be involved in,” Archer said. “It’s a no-brainer for us,” she said.
An overriding theme of the Refugees Welcome dinners is networking in support of making a difference in the world, Purpose strategist Ellie Zeitlin explained.
“The beauty of the whole thing is that there are all of these partners that come together to put this on,” said Zeitlin. “We’ve worked with [corporations] like Facebook, AirBNB, and Uber, and all of a sudden these companies get connected with refugee organizations in their local communities in ways that they wouldn’t have been connected before.”
As a case in point, Hosier revealed that The HUBB BK had an idea to help an asylum-seeking couple from Venezuela by trying to send some medical supplies to that country.
“We are building partnerships ourselves out of this event, and we’re hoping that other people as they’re mingling are building these relationships,” Hosier said.
The slogan of the Refugees Welcome dinner series is “Breaking bread, breaking barriers.” Sitting in Bushwick Abbey, surrounded by people representing all continents happily interacting with each other, it was clear to be that barriers were, in fact, broken.
“A dinner is a starting point,” said Zeitlin. “It doesn’t start and stop with a meal. It’s an invitation to do something more than that.”
Contact Refugees Welcome to learn more about getting involved.