Members of the Warsaw Afghan Help Group were surprised at how much the local community donated for the Afghan refugees in Fort Wayne. Pictured (L to R) with some of the donations are, front row: Lisa Meadows, Sacred Heart Church; Emily Cash, Valley Springs Fellowship; Dick Rooker, Valley Springs Fellowship; back row: Mark Meadows, Sacred Heart Church; Courtney and Amelia Sale, Warsaw First United Methodist Church; Greg Demopoulos, Warsaw Community Church; Amanda Clark, Branches Vineyard Church; Father Ryan Fischer, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church; Matt Abbitt, Habitat for Humanity; and Bob Jarboe, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Members of the Warsaw Afghan Help Group were surprised at how much the local community donated for the Afghan refugees in Fort Wayne. Pictured (L to R) with some of the donations are, front row: Lisa Meadows, Sacred Heart Church; Emily Cash, Valley Springs Fellowship; Dick Rooker, Valley Springs Fellowship; back row: Mark Meadows, Sacred Heart Church; Courtney and Amelia Sale, Warsaw First United Methodist Church; Greg Demopoulos, Warsaw Community Church; Amanda Clark, Branches Vineyard Church; Father Ryan Fischer, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church; Matt Abbitt, Habitat for Humanity; and Bob Jarboe, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Thinking they might get a couple car loads of donations, members of the Warsaw Afghan Help Group were pleasantly surprised this week to see how much the community gave for supplies for the Afghan refugees in Fort Wayne.

Sunday was a Community Collection Day for the supplies. As refugees first arrive in Fort Wayne, they live at the Cabrini Center, a remodeled retirement facility. Supplies were needed to restock diminished supplies at the Cabrini Center and to help refugees set up their individual housing as they transition to it, according to a previous news release from the Help Group.

On Tuesday at Valley Springs Fellowship in Warsaw, the donated paper towels and toilet paper rolls were stacked high like a fortress wall on tables. There were microwaves, crock pots and rice cookers, along with brooms, vacuums, boxes of soap and various other items.

Mark Meadows, a member of the Help Group from Sacred Heart, said, “We’ve collected items for the Cabrini Center in Fort Wayne, which is currently housing refugees from Afghanistan that came up from the military base south of Indianapolis. So, it’s a temporary housing and they need supplies, so they put the word out and Dick (Rooker) rallied the troops and next thing you know, we need a bigger truck! We’re pretty impressed. It’s been a huge outpouring and we’re so glad to be a part of it.”

Rooker, a member of the Warsaw Afghan Help Group, said there were eight drop-off locations, with seven being churches and the other being Habitat for Humanity. Habitat and Sacred Heart Church were communitywide drop-off points with six churches collecting through their congregations.  

“We’ve been trying to support the Afghans over in Fort Wayne ongoing since August, and so this is our continuation and Josh Cash - one of our co-pastors here at Valley Springs - had the idea of having a community event,” Rooker said. “And so the way we decided to do that was to put a call out to resupply the Cabrini Center with supplies, and, as they transition from the Cabrini Center to their permanent housing - they have a backpack full of stuff, that’s all they have - so this helps them get started the way anyone would want help getting started.”

He said it’s been a wonderful outpouring.

“We thought we were going to have maybe two cars and a pickup truck. We looked at what came in and we said, it was like ‘Jaws,’ ‘going to need a bigger boat, going to need a bigger vehicle.’ It was great,” Rooker said.

Meadows said the Cabrini Center is owned by the Diocese of Fort Wayne.

“It was originally a retirement home. I think it was used for something else for a little while. And then it was empty,” he said. “There’s two floors of probably 20-30 rooms per floor. So it’s a nice place to house people. It has a common dining room. It’s really meant to be temporary until people can find permanent housing. So, instead of putting them in a hotel room, they get to stay together. I think it makes it a lot easier on them, too, because they’ve got people with them. They’re not isolated. It worked out really well.”

Rooker said the number of Afghan refugees staying there has fluctuated.

“I think they’ve had as many as 50 there, and now they’re down to 17, but they know it’s going to go back up. And then yesterday, Brittany Young, who is the supervisor there, said it’s probably just a matter of time before Ukrainian refugees will pass through,” Rooker said.

Catholic Charities, which is the government-designated organization in northeast Indiana to take care of the refugee situation in this part of the state, is responsible for getting the refugees temporary housing and then move them to their permanent housing, he said.

“It’s just been wonderful,” Rooker said. “Originally, we thought we’d be bringing some refugee families to Warsaw. That’s not going to work out so far, it might change. So, to see the community give to an hour away from here is just beautiful. We’re very, very grateful to the community for the support they’ve shown.”

Greg Demopoulos, with Warsaw Community Church, explained why WCC got involved.

“I think part of it was just when Dick put word out that there was going to be a community interest meeting, just back in November. We were interested in that,” he said. “We wanted to know how we could help the refugee. That’s what Jesus was all about. He was a refugee once as well. So it was, ‘How do we not get involved in this?’ So from that it was great because we had opportunities to go over and get the Cabrini Center cleaned up and ready. And then this was something else that allowed even more people to get involved.”

Demopoulos said he hopes WCC will continue to be involved in helping refugees and the Cabrini Center.

Matt Abbitt, Habitat for Humanity store manager, said a lot of Habitat’s volunteers were connected to the Help Group.

“We just heard about it through their involvement and then were asked to be a drop-off point since ... a lot of the churches were involved and places weren’t opened outside of Sunday, and we are open Thursday through Saturday, so it was very practical to have a drop-off point and we said absolutely, and that’s kind of how we got involved,” Abbitt said.

He said it was hard to know what to expect but they were surprised at all the items that were donated.

“I was pretty surprised. We had a whole conference table full of pillows and a wide variety of things,” Abbitt said.

Rooker said it was a beautiful match with Habitat because Habitat is all about providing housing to people who don’t have housing.

St. Anne’s Episcopal Church Father Ryan Fischer said, “We had an initial interest with Dick’s call to come over to the (Warsaw) Performing Arts Center. We had Bob (Jarboe) and Cheryl Hastings, she volunteered to be our point person at St. Anne’s to kind of get the word out and get us involved in at least doing part of the work in terms of gathering in these supplies. Just this past couple of weeks, we had a significant in-gathering of items, some of which you may see here at the church. And we’re very happy to be a part of this, and, hopefully, in whatever way we can be involved in this in the future.”

Courtney Sale, with Warsaw First United Methodist Church, said the church’s youth group was collecting items first for Team Rubicon and then a few of their students did the refugee training at Sacred Heart.

“Then we started collecting for this, kind of reached out to our congregation and we had quite a pile in the church office within two weeks,” Sale said.

Branches Vineyard Church also got involved collecting items for the refugees.

Amanda Clark said, “We’ve been making friends with Valley Springs and they asked us to get involved and we said yes. It’s just the sort of thing our church family cares about.”

She said for the size of their church, the turnout was “fantastic.”

Meadows said, “I think we’re all just kind of blown away by how big this thing got. We went around picking up stuff and, like Dick said, we thought maybe we’d load a car or pickup truck or whatever. The next thing you know, we’re thinking, ‘Boy, look at the amount!’ The outpouring has just been fantastic.”

Rooker said there were at least 20 microwave ovens donated, lots of rice cookers. “People have been emailing me, saying, ‘You know you can’t find small microwave ovens in this town right now. You can’t find rice cookers,’” he said. “And my response to that has been, ‘Good!’”

A U-Haul was scheduled to be picked up at 3 p.m. Tuesday. It was to be loaded by volunteers at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and then unloaded at the Cabrini Center at about 11 a.m. Wednesday.