EVANSVILLE — More than 6,600 Afghan refugees have arrived in Indiana over the past three weeks.
Some brought only the clothes on their backs or a small bag. And as we transition into colder weather this fall, Gov. Eric Holcomb is asking Hoosiers to help those evacuees temporarily housed at Camp Atterbury.
Nine Indiana National Guard armories are acting as regional collection sites for the public to drop off new items to help clothe and support the refugees. That includes the National Guard Armory in Evansville at 3300 E. Division St.
“A lot of these people came with next to nothing and they’re going through this process unsure about what to do next on their end,” said Sgt. Jacob Groth, who has been in charge of donations in Evansville. “Anything we can do to alleviate their stresses helps extremely.”
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He said there haven’t been any donations made locally in bulk, but there’s been a consistent stream of individuals who’ve stopped by.
Evacuees are now about 7,000 miles from Kabul, Afghanistan and roughly 40 percent of them are children ages 14 and under – some as young as four months.
The most critical needs are cold-weather clothing for all ages and baby formula.
“These are the first fall days we’re experiencing and they came with maybe a backpack,” Groth said, “so we want to help them prepare for the elements coming up over the next few months.”
Only new items in their original packaging will be accepted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s a statewide effort that includes armories located in Evansville, Greenfield, Rockville, Danville, Muncie, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and New Albany.
Indiana National Guardsmen and Indiana Guard Reserve volunteers are accepting the following new items:
- Men’s and women’s unbranded clothes such as long-sleeve T-shirts, underwear, pants, jackets and coats in sizes small to large. (No shorts or tank tops.)
- Children’s clothing, including baby and newborn clothes, hats and socks
- Baby formula, baby diapers, coloring books, crayons and toys.
- Socks, hats, shoes and slide-on sandals. (No flip flops.)
Through Wednesday, one dozen 4-by-4-foot boxes filled to the brim were delivered.
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“As more word gets out there, hopefully, more people will come in,” Groth said. “Really, it’s just to help them get to the next stage. That’s what we do as communities and as a country, so pushing that help to them will let them realize they’re not alone in the process – and that there are people who care.”
Team Rubicon, a national organization that mobilizes veterans to help during humanitarian crises, is partnering with the Department of Defense to coordinate donations for those coming in from Afghanistan. Daily trips are made to Camp Atterbury as more donations such as toys and clothes arrive.
Camp Atterbury, about 25 miles south of Indianapolis, is one of eight federally designated sites temporarily hosting and processing refugees. They’re preparing for permanent resettlement across the U.S.
“Every little bit helps and we’re appreciative of all of it,” Groth said. “I know there are a lot of kids who don’t have the correct clothing.”
Contact Chad Lindskog of the Courier & Press by email, [email protected], or on Twitter: @chadlindskog.