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Refugee fundraiser exceeds its goal

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The “Families for Families” fundraiser not only reached its goal this past week, but exceeded it—raising more than $42,000 to bring a refugee family to Fort Frances.

“We raised more than we set out to,” enthused committee chair Kathy Mueller, noting the group originally had hoped to raise $35,000—enough to bring in a five-member family.

Since it costs about $7,000 per person, she noted the additional funds means they are able to sponsor a family of six instead.

Mueller said she’s already received information about the family that has been assigned to the local committee—an Iraqi Christian family currently living in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon.

“There is a father, a mother, a 16-year-old daughter, a 15-year-old son, an eight-year-old son, and a three-year-old son,” she remarked.

“That is who has been assigned to us.”

Now that the funds have been raised, Mueller said the next step is to prepare all of the documents.

“[The family has] to send me all of the documents signed, saying that they accept us as sponsors; that they would like us to sponsor them,” she explained.

She then has to fill out a stack of forms with their information and the committee sponsorship information.

“Once that is all finished, it goes to Thunder Bay to the Diocesan Office of Refugee Services,” Mueller added.

“They check it over, the Bishop representative signs it, and sends it to Winnipeg.”

From there, Mueller said the application goes through a screening process in Winnipeg to make sure the community is capable of sponsoring the family and that they truly are in need of refuge.

“Once that is established, it goes back to Lebanon and then they have their screening and medicals there, and then the government organizes their flight and everything to come here,” she noted.

It’s a long process that’s expected to take about four-six months.

“The government is trying to expedite the process, but it will probably take a minimum of four months,” conceded Mueller, adding they’re hopeful it won’t take any longer than six months.

In the meantime, the committee has decided it will continue to accept donations.

“Since we said we were going to raise the money until Christmas Eve, and because people have been calling and saying they still want to give, we’re going to leave it open until Christmas to enable people to have a venue they can give through,” Mueller noted.

“If we do gather quite a bit more, like say, $15,000 more, then we could look at sponsoring another family—a mother, father, and maybe a baby,” she remarked.

If they collect just a couple of thousand dollars more, it would be used to help the initial family settle in here.

“We have the minimum amount that is needed,” Mueller explained.

“When I think about feeding my family, it is pretty expensive,” she added. “They will have teenagers going to high school, so there will be needs there.

“And if we want them to be part of the community, if we want the kids to sports, etc., that all costs money.”

Mueller said the funds already collected will enable the family to live here, as well as to be fed and clothed.

“But we’re thinking if we have a little bit extra, that would not be a bad thing.”

Mueller also said if the local community is able to sponsor a second family, that would be ideal.

“That would be wonderful, I think, because they would have someone to talk to in their own language, someone else to compare notes with, someone in the same situation to share with,” she reasoned.

“So I’m really hoping we’ll be able to do that.”

And due to the generosity she’s seen from the community, Mueller thinks it is possible.

“We raised the money in a month and that’s a significant amount,” she enthused.

When asked if she can believe the outpouring of financial support, Mueller replied “yes.”

“I can because it’s Fort Frances,” she stressed. “It’s just wonderful.

“People always rise to the occasion when there is a need,” she noted. “And I just think it is such a good community in that way—we’re compassionate, we care about people, and we help people.”

Another way people will be able to help the refugee family will be to donate items for their home.

“We have to make sure everything is in order for them,” Mueller said. “We have to set up their home and get all of their supplies.”

And while the committee is in the process of looking for a place for the family to live, donations of other items will be sought in the new year.

“In January, we will hopefully know whether, in fact, that family is coming and then we can go ahead with our plans,” she noted.

“At that point, we will be looking for donations of furniture and things,” she said, adding their idea is to set up a website listing the things they need—sort of like a wedding registry.

“That way we won’t get way too many things,” she explained.

“They can just sign up if they want to contribute in that way.”

Mueller is hopeful the community will continue to donate funds to the cause.

“I’ve had people say they are going to give a substantial amount and they haven’t yet because they were waiting for December,” she noted.

“But we have had such a wonderful, wonderful response from the community,” she reiterated.

“People have been very generous and we’re really pleased with that.”

Donations can be dropped off at the CIBC here in Fort Frances or brought to St. Mary’s Church on Monday to Friday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

E-transfers also can be made to stmarys@jam21.net

Charitable tax receipts will be issued for donations of $20 or more.

Make cheques payable to St. Mary’s Church, with “Families for Families” on the memo line.

For more information, call Mueller at 274-0583.

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