Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett

The best elements of Indiana can show through its response to people in need.

That's happening with efforts by some Terre Haute churches, and other groups from around the state, to get essential supplies to the more than 6,600 Afghan refugees temporarily housed at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh.

The refugees began arriving at the Indiana National Guard training and testing facility on Sept. 2. They're among the 37,000 evacuees of war-torn Afghanistan that have arrived in the U.S. to be resettled around the nation in the first phase of a federal government initiative. The Afghan Placement and Assistance program under the Biden administration calls for 490 to be resettled permanently in Indiana, and another 860 in Illinois, The Associated Press reported.

None are yet planning to resettle in Terre Haute, Cassandra Sanborn — director of development for Exodus Refugee Immigration, a nongovernmental agency helping Afghans find housing and provisions — said last week. That could change, she added, if an Afghan comes to Exodus and has a relative or friend in Terre Haute with whom they want to live.

The refugees fled in the tumultuous withdrawal of American military forces and the Taliban takeover last month, as the U.S. ended its involvement in the nearly 20-year Afghanistan civil war. Many assisted U.S. forces as interpreters, drivers and other support roles. Approximately 40% of those at Camp Atterbury are kids under age 14. Their backgrounds have been vetted, and they've been screened and treated for health issues, as Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Brigadier Gen. Dale Lyles explained earlier this month.

The first steps in rebuilding a life in an unfamiliar new country require some basic needs to be met. Two downtown Terre Haute churches — St. Benedict Catholic Church and Central Presbyterian Church — are collecting donated supplies for the Afghans staying at Camp Atterbury. The motivation behind the efforts is as important as ever.

"I feel like these people have had their world turned upside down," said Brenda Weber, a member at St. Benedict, where she serves in its Global Solidarity program. "So we want to do all we can."

Pastor Mike Riggins of Central Presbyterian described the Afghans' situation as "gut-wrenching."

So, the congregations at St. Benedict and Central Presbyterian responded to the governor's call this month for Hoosiers to donate specific necessities for the refugees at Camp Atterbury.

The state organized a regional network for collections, assisted by volunteers from the national disaster relief organization Team Rubicon and the American Red Cross. Nine National Guard armories serve as drop-off sites, including the armory in Rockville, located less than a half-mile northwest of U.S. 41 on Strawberry Road. Hoosiers can take their own donations to the Rockville armory between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Donations must be in their original packaging. The needed items include men's and women's unbranded, modest clothing, including long-sleeve T-shirts, underwear, pants and jackets in sizes from small to large. No shorts or tank tops will be accepted. Also needed are children's clothing, baby and newborn clothing, as well as hats and socks. Powdered baby formula can be donated, along with socks, hats, shoes and slide-on sandals for all ages. No flip-flops will be accepted.

Financial donations can be made online to the Red Cross at redcross.org or Team Rubicon at teamrubiconusa.org.

Central Presbyterian began accepting donations from its congregation nearly two weeks ago. The church at 31 N. Seventh St. will accept donations from the general public today until 3:30 p.m. The collection will be delivered to the Rockville armory on Monday, Sept. 27.

On Tuesday, Sept. 28, St. Benedict Church will collect supplies for the Afghan evacuees, using a drive-thru system in the parish parking lot at 111 S. Ninth St. The general public and church members can drop off items that day from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. With the large percentage of Afghans under the age of 18, St. Benedict has focused its list of needed items on children. Those items also must be new. They include diapers and baby wipes; puzzles, floor puzzles and easy-to-read books; art supplies, including crayons, playdough and coloring books; soccer balls, basketballs, soft footballs, round balls, hula hoops and similar items.

St. Benedict Church will also accept cash donations to help purchase larger items such as televisions, DVD players, basketball hoops, ping pong tables and other sports equipment. Checks should be made out to Catholic Charities, with Afghanistan on the memo line.

The attention focused on kids and family activities reflects the church's Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, said Rita Burns Senseman, the pastoral associate at St. Benedict for the past eight years.

"I think it's important because these children, and women and men, from Afghanistan have been traumatized," Senseman said.

She cited a biblical verse from the Book of Leviticus as a inspiration for the effort.

“We are trying to help our Afghan sisters and brothers at Camp Atterbury because God calls us to welcome the stranger in our midst," Senseman said, referencing Leviticus 19:34. "Catholic social teaching emphasizes this same principal to love the foreigner among us.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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Mark Bennett has reported and analyzed news from the Wabash Valley and beyond since Larry Bird wore Sycamore blue. That role with the Tribune-Star has taken him from Rome to Alaska and many points in between, but Terre Haute suits him best.