From providing shelter to adjusting in Bay Area, nonprofits prepare for arrival of Afghan refugees

LOS GATOS, Calif. (KGO) -- Across the Bay Area, efforts are already underway to prepare to assist and house Afghan refugees. Thousands of men, women and children who escaped the Taliban takeover are expected, and will soon resettle in the states.

Now, local nonprofits are leaning on community members to help make a difference. Several are preparing by collecting donations, coordinating aid and calling on residents to open their homes.

"We're gonna have a lot of people," Asma Eschen with Afghans4Tomorrow told ABC7 News. "And we don't want to wait 'til the last minute to say, 'Well, let's see when they come in.' We don't know when they're gonna come in."

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Based in Marin, Eschen said she's working with First Presbyterian Church San Anselmo, Afghan Coalition and others. All understand the need will be great.

Eschen said she left Afghanistan at the age of 13, and beginning in 2005 she returned annually to plant trees in the country.

Through First Presbyterian Church San Anselmo, she had remained active in aid initiatives in Afghanistan like the Bare Roots Project.

With the Taliban takeover, she said the thousands of refugees expected to resettle in the region will need assistance beyond what can be easily offered.

"Some of them left in the middle of the night. Some of them left without a shirt in their back. Some of them left without money," she shared. "So we have to mentally- we have to be patient with them."

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Eschen described the donations that are needed.

"We want to be ready to have some scarves, because Afghans are very modest, especially women. And to be ready to have some clothes, because they like to have long sleeves and closed neck areas," she said.

Monetary donations are also accepted, with Eschen pointing to Afghans4Tomorrow's Afghan Refugee Aid 2021 Fund effort.

"This just started," she said about the collaborative effort to prepare. "I believe in a community."

In the South Bay, Dorene Kastelman with Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley (JFSSV) and her husband Jim know firsthand how impactful a little help can be.

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Since 2018, the couple has welcomed eight refugees into their Los Gatos home, a few from Afghanistan.

Through JFSSV, each person was connected to job support programs, ESL classes and more. Much needed services to prepare for their new life, outside and away from Afghanistan.

"We always knew and understood- and it was just so easy to foster independence because all of the refugees we worked with were looking at their future," Dorene told ABC7 News. " So we really never had any difficulty with their own motivation to have a future."

It's a future the Kastelmans and others say begins with basic needs and shelter.

"I think having a home that feels like a home makes the transition much easier," Jim Kastelman added. "Because they're learning a new language, they're either going to school or picking up job skills, and they need a little time to adjust."

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Addressing today's need, Dorene explained, "There's so many new refugees coming in because of the humanitarian crisis that's happening in Afghanistan. So, the amount of need has gone up substantially."

She said through donations and through the kindness of the community, JFSSV has been able to dramatically increase the amount of aid being offered to people.

The couple has hosted refugees for anywhere between one month and one year.

"Every single one of the refugees we've worked with has been motivated to get jobs and contribute to the community," Dorene said.

The Kastelmans added it has been incredibly rewarding to see how well each of the refugees they've hosted have done.

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"We really want to stress the gratitude we feel," Dorene shared. "It's often said that when you volunteer, you get more than what you give. I would say that we probably got triple or quadruple more than what we gave. It was such a rewarding experience, it was a cultural experience. We learned so much more about the cultures of the people that we worked with."

Reasons why Dorene is encouraging those who can assist with shelter or basic needs, rise to the occasion.

"To think of the kind of crisis that's happening right now, it was just very compelling to us to think of what the needs are and what is going to be needed in the community," Dorene told ABC7 News.

TAKE ACTION: How to help Afghanistan, Afghan community

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