Hoosiers showed their hospitality in ways that long will be remembered by refugees from Afghanistan who briefly called Camp Atterbury home.
Most of the roughly 7,000 refugees who stayed at the base for a time during Operation Allies Welcome have been resettled by now to their new homes around the country. But our community can take pride in the welcome we gave them. We far outpaced the donations collected at seven other U.S. bases that housed refugees.
“Indiana has accounted for 75% of all the donations in these different safe havens … It just shows you what Hoosiers will do in a time of need,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said last month. “When we put the call out, U-hauls come running with supplies, and it’s really made a huge difference in other people’s lives.”
But that’s what we do, isn’t it? We Hoosiers try our darnedest to make people feel welcome and at home.
As Operation Allies Welcome is set to wind down around the end of the year, most of the giving and calls for donations have ceased as well. We salute the many individual and collective efforts and the state’s response to the mission at Atterbury exemplary.
As recently as last week, students at Ivy Tech in Columbus were collecting coats and winter clothing for the newcomers. This was the latest of numerous drives to collect clothing, food, monetary donations and more for those who arrived from Afghanistan with little more than the clothes they wore.
Likewise, veterans and volunteers donated their time and energies to make sure that while our Afghan guests waited to be processed and begin their new lives, they would have at least some of the comforts of home.
And in a fitting epilogue, news came last week that several faith groups in Columbus have banded together to host several Afghan families for at least their first year. These families may not have passed through Camp Atterbury on their journey to the United States, but they most assuredly are in for some Hoosier hospitality.
First Presbyterian Church, First Baptist Church, the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church and First Christian Church are working with Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc., and Catholic Charities of Indianapolis on a plan to resettle four Afghan families.
“I think that, among us, there was both a sense of a call and a compassion,” said Pastor Dan Cash of First Baptist. “The people here clearly said, ‘We need to do something (to help).” He told the Republic’s Brian Blair that the congregation had a history of helping refugees, assisting families who settled in Columbus after the Vietnam War.
Likewise, Ghufran Ahmad, president of the local Islamic society, said members donated clothing, money and supplies to refugees soon after they arrived. “Donations just poured in because we were so excited to be able to help,” he said.
So many were excited for the chance to help, and those opportunities will continue. These groups representing diverse faith traditions are embracing the mission central to all great faiths: helping their fellow man. And that work will continue when they welcome Afghan families to new homes in Columbus.
Those are some tidings of comfort and joy befitting this holiday season.