A group of volunteers sifted through a bag of donations inside an Old Lyme home Tuesday.
The three-bedroom house is empty now, but will soon be a place of refuge for a family of Afghan evacuees.
"The committee is ready, the house is ready," said Kathleen Kronholm, who co-chairs the Refugee Resettlement Program of Old Lyme. "We are just waiting."
The program is spearheaded by three churches in Old Lyme. In 2017, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme bought a house and donated it to the program.
"For the purpose of resettling refugees in perpetuity," said Steve Jungkeit, senior pastor at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. "We decided that it was going to be a much easier thing if we could simply purchase a house, use it as a landing pad for families that were coming, and then within a year, hopefully, be able to find permanent housing for them."
In the last four years, two families have lived in the fully-furnished house. The group is now preparing for the third. They are working with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, or IRIS, which is a non-profit refugee resettlement agency based in New Haven.
IRIS is expecting to receive more than 300 Afghan refugees before the year.
"They had to evacuate almost immediately. Most of them are coming without the bare essentials," said Ann O'Brien, director of community engagement for IRIS.
By early September, IRIS had already received eight families that were evacuated from Afghanistan. This month alone, they expect to help about 100 more refugees. The majority of the individuals will be placed in the New Haven and Hartford regions by IRIS, but about 25% will be helped by community groups across Connecticut, like the group in Old Lyme.
"This group of Afghan refugees that are coming to us have virtually nothing," said O'Brien. "These groups, that are working with us to welcome them into their towns, need to be able to provide those things."
Start Fresh, a New London non-profit, is also preparing to welcome at least one refugee family from Afghanistan.
"It is really a community effort," said Cheryl Molina, who helps to lead Start Fresh. "The groundswell of interest is what propels us in our organization to do the work that we do."
Start Fresh and Old Lyme's refugee resettlement program both have resettled families in the past, but this process will likely be more challenging.
IRIS said that the majority of the evacuees from Afghanistan are coming to Connecticut as humanitarian parolees and will not have access to a lot of the benefits that refugees would normally receive.
"As of right now, these families are coming to IRIS and to these community groups with no access to food stamps, no access to any state financial aid," said O'Brien. "We are going to close that gap. We need leads on those affordable apartments, but we also are going to need more financial help to be able to take care of these families until they get their jobs."
The community groups also need volunteers to help with transportation, translation, tutoring, and getting to know about things in town.
"To make sure they are not alone," said Kronholm.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities with Start Fresh, click here.