18 May

ARMY OF GOOD: Welcome Books For Refugees From Maine. We Love, We Care, We Help.

by Jon Katz

The Army Of Good never fails to surprise me or lift me and others. Today, two big boxes of books from a welcome immigrant program in Maine –  Neighbors In Books – arrived at Bishop Maginn, sent by AOG member Aldona Shumway.

I couldn’t begin to describe how our unofficial but mighty group has helped the refugees and immigrants coming to America, a much more complex and sometimes hostile country than they imagined.

We have shown hundreds of people and scores of families the true heart of America – we love, care, and help.

Thanks, Aldona, for your great heart and good work.

These books are already being distributed and will encourage reading, trust, and community.  They make a huge difference. Last week we brought a carload of prom dresses; next Tuesday, I’m getting a giant jewelry box purchased in thrift stores. Some beautiful stuff.

We donated $7,000 for a goodbye prom to Bishop Maginn as a community. The school is closing, but the refugee program isn’t – we’re going to a new school with Sue Silverstein and the refugees at Bishop Maginn.

Thanks, much, to Aldona and all of you good people. We have done a lot, we have a lot to do. This is what life is about.

19 November

The Most Help Ever For Refugees: Thanks To The Good People Out There, The Real Americans

by Jon Katz

I got this message tonight from Sue Silverstein, a teacher at Bishop Maginn High School who has coordinated the support for the Afghan Refugees in Albany, and the refugee families that have been a part of the Bishop Maginn Community for some time.

She gave me permission to reprint it here. We have been working together on the Thanksgiving Baskets now being distributed for families who wish to have their own Thanksgiving Dinner.

I ended up getting a lot more food from local people the last few days and have made nearly 60 bags! Refugees, alumni, current families, a couple of grandparents caring for children have all been cared for this Thanksgiving so thank you!. It’s the largest amount of help I’ve ever been able to provide for Thanksgiving.”

I’d like to add my own thanks to the big-hearted people we call the Army Of Good. To me, they are the heart and soul of the true America. They are also faithful heirs to the message of Jesus Christ, no mater what their religious beliefs are.

I am not a Christian, but I hear the call to care for the needy and vulnerable,  it lifts my heart to know I am far from alone. We are not only helpling and feeding these needy we  people, are helping them to see the genuine America, whose heart and soul beat proudly amidst the storm.

Thank you.

17 November

Bishop Maginn Students (And You) Rally To Make Thanksgiving Day Baskets For The Afghan And All Refugees. Thank You. See What You Did.

by Jon Katz

(Above The contents of each Thanksgiving Basket for the incoming Afghan Refugees and the refugee families needing food relief in the Bishop Maginn High School community.)

It was a wonderful thing to see today—an almost sacred day.

A classroom stuffed with volunteers – refugee and inner-city children working hard and joyously to press the big and bulging Thanksgiving Baskets that will go to at least 50 families in the Albany, N.Y. area. I saw a river of good flowing from pure hearts in and out of the school, hour after hour. This country has so much good; I don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.

All kinds of food from noodles to muffins to cranberry sauce to puddings and potatoes and sauces and stuffings. Inside of every large bag, there is also a $25 gift certificate so each family can purchase a turkey if they wish or something else if they prefer.

Most families are eager to celebrate Thanksgiving, as they see it as a way of giving thanks for being in America. They are grateful to be here for all of the troubles they face; it is so vastly superior to the horrors and dangers that so many of them have faced.

The basket stuffing began just after 11 a.m. and ended at 1:30 p.m. The food was donated by the Army Of Good, Bishop Maginn Alumnae, and several community groups in the Albany area. Starting this afternoon, the refugees can come to the Bishop Maginn Free Store and pick up their baskets, or teachers and social workers will deliver the baskets to them.

This will not make it a joyous holiday for many of these refugees, who came here with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. But it will help.

The families are happy to see the toys that you have donated, more than $1,000 worth of books from the Army Of Good are arriving on Monday and Tuesday.

We can’t solve many of the enormous problems the refugees face in this country. Still, we can make sure no student or refugee family goes hungry, has no mattresses to sleep on, soap or deodorant or toilet paper, blankets and sleeping bags and comforters,  or does not have enough money to buy healthy food for three meals a day.

Sue is once again giving warm breakfast cereal and snacks to her students who show up early on empty stomachs to get something to eat.

As always, Sue Silverstein did a fantastic job organizing the basket stuffing.

She had all of the donated food boxes on large shelves in the rear of the classroom. She and several students opened the boxes and distributed the food to other students, who carried them to students sitting at tables all over the room with a bag opened in front of them.

It sounded like a riot, but it worked smoothly.

As they were handed the boxes, the bags began to fill out, which worked like clockwork. Sue has a fantastic relationship with her students, and they worship her and listen to her. They didn’t need any cajoling. Many of the students are refugees themselves, and they jumped at the chance to help other refugees.

The boxes were taken to the Free Refugee Store on the school’s second floor when they were done.

The Bishop Maginn Free Store will be open starting later this week so the new refugees can come and pick out the blankets, clothes, household appliances, bedding, toiletries, and other things they might need. The store has been cleaned out at least four times but will keep going as long as it can.

At least five or six non-profit refugee support groups have rushed to help, and I believe the refugees will get more support than any refugee family has received over the past four or five years. This time, the government is on their side; that makes a huge difference.

It was a beautiful and uplifting day for me. I helped stuff the bags, took photos for Sue, helped flatten the boxes, and had a powerful interview with Caleb, a Bishop Maginn freshman who learned last summer that he has “Diabetes 1” (technically called “Type One Diabetes.”) We talked about how it had affected his life  – he was out of school for months – and what he hopes to do in the future to help other kids with the disease.

I’ll write about that later in the week.

Thanks so much for your support for the baskets; the food just kept pouring in, as did the toys and the blankets and comforters. Of course, I’ll stay in touch with Sue Silverstein and keep in touch with the refugee coordinators I’ve been talking to. If there’s something further we can do to help, I’ll write about it, and we’ll see what we can do. I’m also excited about getting to know the Bishop Maginn students once again after a prolonged Covid interruption.

17 November

Windowsill Gallery: Off To Albany, Thanksgiving Baskets For The Afghan Refugees

by Jon Katz

I notice that Maria put some ceramic bird salt and pepper shakers up on the windowsill, we bought them to use, but they don’t work well. She found a home for them in the living room.

This morning, we’re heading for Bishop Maginn High School, we are helping to set up the Free Store and the Thanksgiving baskets and gift certificates for the Afghan refugees.

The store is on the ground floor of the high school, which has become a center for aid and support for the new refugees. They know how to do it.

Maria will teach six students how to sew on the new machines we bought, and I’ll help with the baskets and perhaps interview one of the students.

I’m leaving Zinnia behind, it’s going to be too chaotic and some of the refugees are not familiar with big friendly dogs. We have to be careful and thoughtful.

I’m excited about today, a big injection of good and affirmation.

16 November

Beautiful Books On The Way To Bishop Maginn For The Afghan Refugees

by Jon Katz

The first load of books ($500 worth) is shipping out tomorrow for the free store at Bishop Maginn High School, a central service point for the Afghan refugees to get some of the things they need.

Maria and I are going to the school in the morning to help assemble the Thanksgiving Basket items and gift certificates the Army Of Good has so generously donated.

Maria will teach her class how to use the new sewing machines we sent to the school. I’m planning on interviewing another of the remarkable students at the school; I’m planning on making this a series – The Students Of Bishop Maginn High School and their stories.

Today, I went to the Battenkill Bookstore to look over the beautiful books chosen  By Connie Brooks (after much research) specifically for the new refugees: how to leave a pet behind or a grandmother or friend, how to start a new life and make friends in a new country. Some also deal with the trauma of the refugee.

There are pictures, stories, and valuable tips and guides. Some books are beautiful with gorgeous photographs and inspiring and comforting stories. They’ll arrive at the Free Store on Monday.

We have a second-order ($400) of books – picture books mostly, for the very young – shipping out to the store next week. We all feel we have enough books for now. We want to see what’s left after Thanksgiving.

All of the families have blankets, warm bedding, and all of them have gift certificates (they can buy turkeys or anything they wish) and the makings of a Thanksgiving dinner. The toys you purchased on the Amazon Afghan Refugee Toy Wish List are arriving every day, and the families are incredibly grateful for them.

I’m excited about these books, they are lovely and helpful, and I’m proud to be sending them where they are so desperately needed and will do so much good.

Bishop Maginn Teacher Sue Silverstein is very worried about the rise in heating oil costs this winter; this was a problem last winter when we discovered several students were sleeping on living room mats and floors to save on heating oil.

We got several mattresses for these families; I know some were cold.

I’m not sure there is a lot we can do about that.

We need to stay focused on smaller and less expensive things.  We are doing a lot of good. We can’t burn ourselves out. We are helping now, keeping perspective, discipline, and scale.

Several groups are lobbying the Biden administration and local government for more help, and they seem much more receptive to the call than the previous administration was..

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