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Abilene nonprofit helps refugees feel more at home during holidays

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ABILENE, Texas - Many refugees in Abilene are spending a new holiday in a new country, and The International Rescue Committee in Abilene is using the time to help refugees feel more like family in the Big Country.

"Thanksgiving always makes me feel a little bit emotional, just thinking about the story for the first thanksgiving that we all celebrate -- the pilgrims that had a long journey, and they sit down and enjoy a meal together -- and that's a very similar sentiment for the refugees we have here in Abilene," said Emily Parker at the IRC.

Like the pilgrims who escaped England and helped colonize in America, these refugees have come here looking for a new start.

Many refugees who have settled in Abilene are coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where war has threatened its people since the Rwandan Civil war spilled into the country in the early '90s.

"War, genocide, abuse, you name it, and now they're here and we don't have those things here, so that's a really big deal to them, something we take for granted for sure," Parker said.

Through the IRC, they receive a Thanksgiving meal along with an explanation for why we celebrate the holiday.

"They'd gone through a lot of hard things. They've gone through a long journey in which all of our clients have an experience with. They've gone through losing loved ones which, pretty much all of our clients have experienced and now they're in a place that is safe where they can give thanks for where they are," said Parker.

Once Thanksgiving is over, the IRC switches gears to Christmas.

As black Friday shopping begins, they're asking for donations to their Home for the Holidays program, which lets people sponsor a family or person for gift giving.

The program benefits 35 families, 141 people in total.

"We're looking for winter wear, hats, coats, gloves. Coming from Africa, winter is new, and especially in Abilene, I know that layers and things like that are really important," Parker said.

Parker says things like tablets are also important because "that would help a lot with job searching and ESL things like that, [which] we really stress here at the IRC".

"We tried to sit down with them and ask them, you know, 'What do you want, what can we tell sponsors to buy for you?' And just that question for them, where they get to choose, that was overwhelming. I think the biggest thing is that it shows them that they're welcome here in our community," said Parker.

You can find more information about the program here. You can also contact Emily Parker at the International Rescue Committee at Emily.Parker@rescue.org or 325-675-5643.

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