A Warm Welcome: Smithies Organize Clothing Drive for Arriving Refugees

At a sorting party in the basement of John M. Greene Hall, students review items collected in a clothing drive for refugees arriving in Northampton this semester.

For the last few weeks of fall semester, Bei Heald ’18’s car was filled to the window frames with coats, boots, sweaters and other winter clothing donated by Smithies.

Those items were collected during a drive launched by Heald and fellow members of the student group Higher Education for Refugees at Smith (HERS), to help international refugees who will be arriving in Northampton over the next few months.

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Winter clothing items collected in Smith houses to assist refugees arriving in Northampton.

Working in collaboration with Catholic Charities, students set up collection bins in Smith houses in late October and sent out word through the Lewis Global Studies Center, the Office of Residence Life and on Facebook about the drive.

“We wanted to do something that was interactive with the community and that we could organize as students,” said Heald, who is co-chair of HERS.

“We also thought that since many students would be going home over the Thanksgiving break, they could involve their families” in the clothing drive, added Khulood Fahim ’19, the organization’s co-chair.

The student-led drive netted numerous boxes of needed winter clothing that Catholic Charities will distribute to 51 refugees arriving in Northampton from Syria, Iraq, Burundi and other countries early this year.

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(Smith’s Jandon Center for Community Engagement has also begun collecting winter clothing for newly arriving refugees. Donated items can be dropped off in boxes in Wright Hall and College Hall.)

Clothing drives are among several refugee support efforts underway at Smith.

HERS was founded by students last spring following a Lewis Global Studies Center humanities lab on forced displacement and refugees.

In addition, several new initiatives related to refugee support will receive funding through President Kathleen McCartney’s Innovation Challenge

Fahim said the response to the student-led clothing drive shows Smithies are eager to help.

“My housemates were so enthusiastic,” she said. “Whenever the clothing collection box got full, they would take the initiative to replace it and consistently advertised the drive within our house. We also had great support from our housekeeper, Kim Shea. It was a real community effort.”

Residence Life and the Global Studies Center also helped make the drive a success, student organizers say. The campus thrift store, SmiTHrift, hosted a clothing “sorting party” in the basement of John M. Greene Hall at the end of the drive.

“The experience was the epitome of the strong student network we have at Smith and the way students connect with the community,” said Beverly Lipsey ’18J, junior class president and president of SmiTHrift.

Other students who helped organize the clothing drive were Julia Bouzaher ’20, Rachel Cooke ’20, Arielle D’Souza ’20, Sara Elghazoly ’19, Zahra Hannan ’20, Julia Ing ’19, Deniz Keles ’20, Simren Nagrath ’19, Vivian Nguyen ’20, Eden Phillips ’19, Sakaiza Rajery ’20 and Tiffany Wilt ’17.

Heald said Smithies will continue to raise awareness on campus about issues related to refugees.

“A lot will be going on in the community this semester,” she said. “It’s important as students that we not be in a bubble.”