Kathy Mueller was waiting for someone locally to step forward with a way to help families amid the conflict zone in the Middle East.
When no one did, she decided she would—by proposing the community of Fort Frances and wider Rainy River District sponsor a refugee family.
“As soon as you turned on the television or looked at the papers or any of the news, we’re constantly barraged with the Syrian refugees, and before them the Iraqi Christians and all those people who have lost everything they owned and had to leave their country,” Mueller said.
“And I wished we could do something,” she added, noting you can give money to charities that will feed them.
“But there are people who need to leave and a lot of the refugee camps, and, of course, the European countries that were accepting people, are overrun,” Mueller explained.
Since local residents are so good about helping people within our communities and supporting those in need, she thought perhaps the district could open its arms to helping another family.
“We have had so many fundraisers that have been so successful,” Mueller remarked.
“I thought maybe we have room for another family or two that we can help out.”
Mueller contacted the Diocesan Office of Refugee Services in Thunder Bay to see how Rainy River District could help.
She was told there already have been people approved by the United Nations as refugees ready to come—they are just waiting for sponsorship.
She thought about seeing if her church, St. Mary’s Parish, would sponsor a family.
“But our church is like every other church right now . . . and the financial support isn’t there,” she conceded, noting it would be difficult for any one church to come up with the necessary funds to sponsor a refugee family.
“And [so] I thought it would be so good to welcome a family as a family,” she reasoned, adding she knows the whole community could come together to make this happen.
“We need the whole community to accept the people who come in, to welcome them and make them feel at home in a country that will be very foreign to them,” Mueller said.
“When you sponsor a family, you are responsible for helping them, to provide all of their basic needs and accommodations for an entire year, unless they move out of your community,” she explained.
“So you have to provide housing, clothing, furniture, food, expenses as far as heat and lights, and then you have to help them get a job.”
Mueller added the community also would be responsible for teaching the adults how to drive, if they have the opportunity to drive, as well as helping get the children enrolled in school and help them learn to speak English.
“We would direct them to the various organizations that would help them,” she noted.
“We would help them settle in to become part of the community.”
But in order to bring a refugee family here, Mueller said it costs about $7,000 per person. So for a family of five, it would be $35,000.
“It seems like a lot of money, but this community seems to be able to raise that kind of money in one night,” she noted, referring to the “Under the Big Top” fundraiser dinner for the Riverside Foundation for Health Care earlier this month.
Mueller’s idea is called “Families for Families.”
“How can my family help another family?” she mused, noting she has a large family with nine siblings.
Including her mom, that makes 10 members of her family. And if they each gave $100, that already would be $1,000.
“That would be 35 families willing to give $1,000,” Mueller reasoned, noting that could extend to children, aunts, and uncles contributing.
“Or your family could be the Catholic Women’s League that you belong to, and maybe 100 of us could give $10 each,” she suggested.
Mueller noted people could give what they are able to.
She added she doesn’t want to have to hold a fundraising event to raise the money.
“I don’t think we should always have to have something back for giving—we should just give,” Mueller stressed.
And because of the dire circumstances in which the refugee families live, she would like to have all the funds be raised by Christmas.
“What I need now is people who have gone through this process before,” said Mueller, noting she’s never be part of sponsoring a refugee family before.
“I’d like to think that maybe I just lit the spark to get the fire going.”
Mueller has scheduled a meeting for anyone interested in helping with the initiative for tomorrow (Oct. 15) at 6:30 p.m. at the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre.
“I’m hoping people who have the knowledge will come and help make it happen,” she remarked, adding a committee of five is necessary to support the application to sponsor a family.
Mueller is hopeful the community would be open and accepting to sponsoring a refugee family.
“The majority are just families trying to keep their families alive,” she noted, refuting claims that refugees are terrorists.
“What if that were my family, my little kids, and you have to pay everything you own to get passage?”
But coming from a Christian background, Mueller said they are her family.
“We’re all part of God’s family, brothers and sisters,” she reasoned.
“If we can bring them in, give them a new life, give them their basic needs and nurture them, hopefully we’ll make the world a better place.”
For more information, call Mueller at 274-0583.