SPARTA (WKOW) — Labor Day brought increased traffic to the armory where nonprofit and military personnel were sorting through donations for the Afghan refugees being temporarily housed at Fort McCoy.
Team Rubicon, a disaster response nonprofit, was leading the efforts to organize and deliver donations to the military base, which is about seven miles northeast of the Sparta armory.
Incident Commander Jodi Moyer said Team Rubicon first began accepting donations last week. Moyer said she was inspired by her trips to Fort McCoy to help set up distribution for the nearly 9,000 refugees currently on the base.
The Department of Homeland Security is now overseeing the screening efforts happening at the base. Department of Defense officials had previously said the base was expanding its capacity to hold as many as 13,000 visa applicants and other at-risk Afghans.
“It’s a relief to see them out enjoying outside, out being able to play soccer, sitting in a group, being able to socialize with friends and family,” Moyer said. “And not have to worry about what the next day will bring.”
Frank Gavin pulled into the armory’s parking lot shortly before 1 p.m. Monday. The Tomah man, an Army veteran himself, said he felt compelled to take clothes over to the refugees.
“The people that are coming in, they’re coming in with nothing,” Gavin said “I told [Moyer], I said there’s this time in life when instead of going up, you’re gaining a little bit of weight and you’ve got a lot of things you should probably get rid of that have been hanging in the closet forever-and-a-day.”
Moyer said organizers were seeking new or lightly-used clothes. While many felt a need to bring winter clothing for Afghans unfamiliar with a Wisconsin winter, she said the emphasis at the armory was currently on clothes that could help people immediately – during the final weeks of summer and first weeks of fall.
“Winter clothing will be something that is needed but not right at the moment because it’s still a little bit of a warm weather,” she said. “So we are getting them what they need to get through the next couple of weeks.”
Moyer added that donors should try to bring clothes that are culturally appropriate for Afghans – modest wardrobe, including long pants and long-sleeve shirts for men, women, and children.
Organizers were also seeking diapers and toys; in particular, Moyer said group toys, such as games or soccer balls, were especially helpful.
Janet Cunitz said she felt the same urge to help she did in 1980 when Fort McCoy housed 14,000 Cuban refugees. The Sparta woman dropped off one box of clothes Monday but said she planned to return several more times in the coming days and weeks.
“I wanna help them,” Cunitz said. “They’ve been through a very hard time – through the war and for so long – and I just want to help them get back on their feet.”
While Team Rubicon officials did not grant 27 News access inside the armory, Cunitz said she was able to peek in briefly while dropping off clothes Monday.
“It looks like they have a lot of people bringing things and they’re very organized,” Cunitz said. “They still have a lot of room for more.”
How to Donate
Anyone interested in dropping off clothes, diapers, toys, or blankets can come by the armory at 602 E. Division St. in Sparta. Staff will be present to accept donations seven days a week between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those with questions can email [email protected].