Clothes drive

Khanda Johns, a Harrisonburg resident and a hairdresser at The Studio, donated money to Rocktown Rallies because she was a refugee herself. 

A local humanitarian group called Rocktown Rallies is collecting coats and blankets for Syrian refugees in the community. The group is receiving donations until Friday at businesses all around Harrisonburg. 

“It’s easy to see these families and to think about putting yourself into their situation,” Alysia Davis, one of the organizers of Rocktown Rallies, said. “To have your entire life uprooted and then trying to figure out what the best thing to do — it is not easy, no one has the right answers, but it is easy to teach humanity.”

The U.S. saw an increase of 25 percent in accepted applicants of Syrian refugees seeking asylum from 29 in 2011 to 36 in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of State. None of those statistics include the amount of refugees pouring in from Iraq, Jordan and other surrounding countries. 

According to Kate Trotta, a member of Rocktown Rallies, the group has been working with Harrisonburg’s Refugee Resettlement Office to help coordinate the arrival of these immigrants in coordination with the Church World Service, a faith-based humanitarian organization. Rocktown Rallies has 23 drop-off locations across Harrisonburg, along with a donation bin in dormitories and libraries on JMU’s campus, according to Davis. 

The Church World Service held a collection drive earlier this year for newly-arrived refugees in October according to Trotta. 

“They have a list of items that they need for newly arrived families, and we are setting up drives to gather these items,” Trotta said. “We also worked with them to throw a welcome party for all of the refugees that arrived in October which was almost 60 people with more than half of them being children.”

For Davis, part of her motivation to form Rocktown Rallies was sparked after seeing the picture of 3-year-old Alyan Kurdi waterlogged and drowned on the shores of a Turkish beach. Davis thought that no child ought to endure that, which led to her meeting with a group of 12 friends that since has turned into 500 followers on Rocktown Rallies’ Facebook page. 

“About half of the Syrian refugees are children,” Trotta said. “No child should ever have to go through what these children have experienced, and we are doing everything we can to ease their suffering even if that only means keeping them warm while they wait in refugee camps for whatever their future may hold.”

The blankets and coats collected are being sent to a refugee camp in Turkey with the aid of the humanitarian organization Embrace Relief, which collected 18,000 jackets for refugees last year. 

Local resident Khanda Johns is a refugee herself. Her parents emigrated from the Kurdistan region of the Middle East in 1996 and has gone through the same emotional experience as the families arriving now. Johns helped Rocktown Rallies by raising $600 from friends and family that she used to purchase children’s jackets from Costco for the families abroad. Johns feels if everyone did a little to help, it would go a long way to help refugees around the world.  

“I just love giving to children and making sure they’re safe. I do it for the kids,” Johns said. “I don’t see any religion, culture, it doesn’t matter what color they are. I feel like if we all pitch in and help out, we would have less of that problem in our world.” 

Contact Chris Kent at chris kent2cm@dukes.jmu.edu