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'Never in my wildest dreams' — Lincoln woman inundated with donations for Afghan refugees
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'Never in my wildest dreams' — Lincoln woman inundated with donations for Afghan refugees

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Jeanette Tiwald explains the origins of a donation drive for a refugee family from Afghanistan.

Jeanette Tiwald was shopping at a thrift store earlier this month when she looked across O Street.

And the Catholic Social Services building jogged her memory.

She still needed to find a family to sponsor for Christmas, a tradition she started more than 35 years ago when her kids were young.

“I just wanted to make sure my children understood how important it was that they should give graciously to someone. I would always say, ‘There’s someone poorer than you who needs help.’”

Year after year, her family arranges for a Christmas meal, and buys toys for children, toiletries for their mothers, blankets for grandparents.

But until that day when she crossed O Street and walked into Catholic Social Services, she’d never had to rent a U-Haul before.

She asked if the nonprofit knew a family she could sponsor. The agency had already made all of its holiday pairings — matching families in need with those who can give — but did have a young couple from Afghanistan who needed help.

About 500 Afghan refugees have arrived in Nebraska; resettlement agencies swamped
Resettlement agencies working to find homes, services for Afghan refugees arriving in Lincoln

They had arrived Dec. 1, two of the 395 refugees expected to resettle in Lincoln after the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August.

They were living in a hotel, waiting for housing, and the wife was eight months pregnant.

Could Tiwald find them a crib?

She went home and posed the question on the Nextdoor site.

“I must have gotten over 100 emails and texts, saying, ‘I can help, I can help, I can help,’” she said.

And since then, a steady parade of strangers — she estimated 50 to 60 — have made their way to her east Lincoln home, donating car seats, strollers, safety gates, diapers, high chairs, bedding and baby clothes, hundreds of items in all. Others gave gift cards and cash.

“I have a pile in my house,” she said. “I never in my wildest dreams believed something like this would happen.”

Local View: Welcome mat to the heartland

She rented a U-Haul truck Tuesday and delivered the donations to Catholic Social Services, which was grateful for the help, said Pim-Pimpicha Tubsuwan, its refugee resettlement director.

Several times a week, her caseworkers and other staff drive to the airport to pick up a new family. By this weekend, they’ll have settled 90 refugees — or about 40 families — and they expect to ultimately settle 165. Lutheran Family Services is committed to resettling 230.

And their needs are great. Housing and home goods, clothing, medical care and other services.

Refugee donation

Jeanette Tiwald and her son Nick load a truck Tuesday with donations she helped collect for Catholic Social Services to help a refugee family from Afghanistan.

It’s like putting a puzzle together, Tubsuwan said. Everyone has an important piece to contribute: Her staff, volunteers, county and state agencies — and donors like Tiwald.

“To resettle one person or one family, it requires a whole lot of collaboration in the community,” Tubsuwan said.

Tiwald isn’t finished. She has more donations lined up. And she’s still searching for a crib. But she’s not worried about finding one.

“People in Lincoln, they know how to provide for people in need.”

How to help

Catholic Social Services has set up a gift registry for those who would like to buy items online for Afghan refugees being resettled in Lincoln.

Find more information, and the online registry, at: cssisus.org/helprefugees

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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