By Matthew Liebenberg
The First United Church in Swift Current is hosting a refugee resettlement fundraising supper in support of an initiative to reunite members of a Syrian family.
The fall supper takes place at the East Side Church of God on Oct. 21. The event includes a live and silent auction, guest speakers, and musical entertainment.
Rev. Annette Taylor, a member of the First United Church Refugee Sponsorship Working Group, said the event will be important to move closer to their fundraising goal.
“We are certainly hoping to have another bit of a jump thanks to that supper, and then there will still be a need for further fundraising after that, for sure,” she noted.
The goal is to raise a total of $95,000 required for private sponsorship of a family group of possibly nine people varying in age from seniors to infants, who are currently in a precarious and uncertain situation in the Middle East. Their lives are still impacted by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria due to a civil war that started 11 years ago, resulting in the displacement of millions of people.
“They had to leave everything behind,” she said. “Whatever they had in Syria, they’ve left that behind and they’re in a very tenuous situation.”
The original fundraising goal of this refugee sponsorship initiative was $40,000. However, the changing circumstances of the family meant that an additional $55,000 is required in accordance with federal government funding guidelines for private refugee sponsorship.
One of the family members got married and is now a parent, while another might reach adulthood before this sponsorship process is completed. All these changes in their personal lives influence the categorization of the family group under the terms of the sponsorship process, including the amount of funds required to support them for a full year after their arrival in Canada.
“So at this point we’re looking at possibly four family configurations that includes one single person, and so we’re raising funds to try and cover that possibility,” Taylor said. “We’ve already got some paperwork started and it looks like they may not end up coming all together either. The first group we’re looking at possibly having them arrive sometime in 2024.”
The working group’s fundraising efforts started last year and over $60,000 in donations have already been received through generous community support. There have been donations from as far away as Toronto and other United Church congregations in Saskatchewan responded positively to an appeal for financial support.
“We’ve had generous donations from some of the churches here in town, who have given us money from their refugee funds,” she added. “We’ve also been doing some small fundraisers, a Facebook auction, and we’ve been at Market Square a couple of times in 2021 and a couple of times again in 2022. We have raised some money there through the sale of baking and this year we’ve sold puzzles. It’s been a real mixture of fundraising options and we knew we would have to do that in order to reach our goal.”
The First United Church refugee sponsorship program was originally started in 2015 as a way to respond to the global refugee crisis and to make a contribution through practical action to support a refugee family.
“One of the key tenets of who we are as a church is hospitality and outreach into the community and into the world,” she said. “The opportunity to actually bring a family that had to leave their own country just felt like it fits who we were as a church. When we looked for a committee that would make this happen, we had a committee of eight within a day of making the request. There was that much interest at the time and the experience has certainly been a rewarding one for all the people who made that first sponsorship happen.”
That initial effort resulted in the arrival of the Etmeh family in Swift Current in 2016. They are now Canadian citizens and still living in the city, but they had to leave family members behind when they came to Canada. The activities of the First United Church Refugee Sponsorship Working Group were therefore revived to help the Etmehs realize a dream to be united with their family.
“The original group decided they were ready to take it on again,” Taylor recalled. “It was important that we had a core group of people who were willing to do that work. The congregation was obviously ready to do their part, but they needed to know that we were also going to be looking beyond the congregation for financial support and this was going to become even more of a community project than just a church project.”
The Refugee Sponsorship Working Group has successfully reached out to the community for support. One member of the group lives outside Swift Current and helps to connect with other United Church congregations in the region.
“We have another individual on the committee who is helping to connect us with some of the other churches and also with businesses within the community,” she said. “We also have had support from the Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association. So there has been actually a really positive response from the community over the last year as we’ve been doing our fundraising work.”
All funds raised will be held in trust until the refugee family members arrive, when the full amount will be used to cover their living expenses over a period of 12 months while they settle in Swift Current. Previous experience gained within the First United Church congregation will be useful to support the family after their arrival, and there is the additional advantage that the Etmeh family is already here to guide them.
“Last time we had people assigned with various aspects of what they were dealing with,” Taylor said. “Now it will be a little easier. Last time we actually had to ask for help in the community to find people who would act as translators and this time of course they will have family members who would do a lot of that for them. So I know that our current family will be doing some of that to help, but we will still need to have a very active committee as well.”
Tickets for the refugee resettlement fundraising supper on Oct. 21 are available at Pharmasave in Swift Current at a price of $50 per person. There will be a variety of interesting items to bid on in the live and silent auction. Guest speakers are Swift Current Mayor Al Bridal, Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley, and former refugee Heba Etmeh. Musical entertainment will be provided by Jessica Rouleau and Dustin Olmsted.
There are also other ways to make a tax deductible donation in support of the First United Church refugee sponsorship initiative.
An electronic funds transfer can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org with a note in the memo section to indicate it is for refugee sponsorship.
An online donation can be made on the Chuffed fundraising page of First United Church. The website link is: https://www.chuffed.org/project/refugee-sponsorship-and-family-reunification
Another option is to support sponsorship through an automatic monthly bank account withdrawal through a pre-authorized remittance (PAR).
A cheque can be made out to First United Church with an indication in the memo section it is for refugee sponsorship. The mailing address is: 223 3rd Ave NE, Swift Current, SK, S9H 2G8