This report is going to 32 generous friends who have donated to our catering appeal on behalf of an Afghan family in Maryland. The fifteen family members are among more than 74,000 Afghans who have arrived in the US following the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021.
The Advocacy Project first met the family while researching the challenges facing newly-arrived Afghans in the US, which we described in this article. We uncovered a host of problems, but also many talented refugees and committed American volunteers who stepped forward to help.
This family is just one example. The family matriarch, who we called Lala for security reasons, is an excellent cook. One of her daughters, Mariam, was a prize-winning photo journalist in Afghanistan before arriving in the US. Here in the US eight accomplished volunteers, headed by Kathy and Karen, have taken on the task of helping the family through the maze of regulations on housing, education, employment, health and more.
The appeal has raised just over $2,000 so far. This has been transferred to the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Arnold, Maryland which has set up a refugee task force for newly-arrived Afghans. The family used some of the money to buy cooking utensils and catered their first event on February 18 with help from three churches – Gloria Dei, Broadneck Baptist and Asbury UMC - together with Heart for Refugees, a voluntary association in the Baltimore area.
On the menu were nine popular Afghan dishes raging from Kabuli pulao (a treasured national dish that comprises slow-cooked lamb, rice, lentils, raisins, carrots, cardamom and nuts) to Gosh e fil, a tempting fried flat dough sprinkled with sugar and spices.
Chary, one of the volunteers, reports that the event was a rousing success: “We advertised in our church bulletins and word of mouth, and received more RSVPs than we could sit at our 14 tables! So we had to put about 30 people on a waitlist for next time. Subtracting the cost for food and supplies, the net profit was $2,321.
“The food was largely cooked at home in (Lala’s) kitchen. We used $36 of the GlobalGiving donation to buy stainless steel pans on eBay and this made transport much easier. On the night of the event, team members took three carloads of people and food to the church. The cooks then used the church kitchen to complete the preparation and served the food themselves, buffet style. One family member stood behind each platter ladling out the food. This allowed for lots of eye contact, smiles and good interaction with customers.
“It was a family affair. Children entertained the guests with a song, This Little Light of Mine (photo), and helped to serve on the buffet line as well as clean up afterwards. The food was so well received that the family was asked to cater a similar event at another church and a smaller private party in the local community in the spring.”
The event also featured a presentation by Mariam of her photos from Afghanistan and a rug sale by Akhtar, another former refugee who imports carpets. The volunteers kept careful receipts and estimated the cost of their free labor at $824, for future reference as the business grows.
Things have slowed down since this exciting launch. The family members pooled their funds and purchased a 7-seat Toyota Highlander that was put to use when the family participated in a “Food Truck Day” at the Gloria Dei Church. Chary reports that they made and sold baked and fried desserts at $5 and $10 a portion: “The family bought all the supplies, delivered the goods and were happy with profit. All we did was loan them a table.”
Looking ahead, the family’s volunteers have drawn on the church fund to purchase a new laptop and found a community kitchen near the family’s home where the family can rent equipment and storage space. The volunteers have also located a nearby Halal food distributor, and plan to reach out to a food service business incubator in Baltimore that could help to take the catering start-up to the next level.
While all of this is encouraging, resettlement remains challenging for most of the newly arrived Afghans in the US. This starts with legal status. The majority of Afghans who arrived were given the temporary status of “humanitarian parolees,” which means they have to secure asylum within two years of arrival.
The process is long and many are not yet there. They are understandably nervous as the two-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul (August 15) approaches. The US Congress has not helped by rejecting a proposed bill, the Afghan Adjustment Act, that would have granted full refugee status to all the new arrivals.
But as this catering start-up shows, the hurdles can be overcome and American society is certainly richer for its new Afghan arrivals. Community volunteers have also shown their value in helping to resettle Afghans and will play a central role in an important new resettlement initiative known as Welcome Corps, unveiled by the US Department of State on January 19.
We welcome your feedback and hope you will contact us with suggestions for future catering events!
Lala’s family, her volunteers and our team at AP.
This report is going to the 32 generous friends who have donated to our appeal on behalf of an Afghan family in Maryland. The fifteen family members are among more than 74,000 Afghans who have arrived in the US since the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021.
Our goal is to help the family start a catering business from their new home and your combined pledges have raised $2,030 so far, including a match from GlobalGiving. We transferred the money this past week to the Gloria Dei! Lutheran Church in Arnold Maryland which has provided a team of dedicated volunteers to support the family as they resettle in the US.
The family members and their volunteers will take it from here. They will start by investing in materials and supplies including pots, pans and trays to keep the food warm during transport. They need to be well prepared for their first catering event, expected in the spring.
Finding actual events has proved harder than we expected. The family received an offer recently but several family members would have had to take time off work to accompany their mother (seen in the photo below) who is the lead cook. That would have been difficult. The other challenge would have been distance and transport. The event was to take place in downtown Washington during rush hour, about 90 minutes from the family home. We were all disappointed, but it was the right decision.
The search is now on for events closer to home in Maryland. If anyone receiving this email has suggestions we would be happy to pass them on to the family and their volunteers. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The resettlement process continues to be difficult for many Afghan refugees, particularly those who left family members behind in Afghanistan and came from rural areas. In addition to problems of language and culture they now face legal worries after the US Congress recently rejected the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would have given the refugees a legal pathway to permanent residency. The idea that they could have been airlifted to the US only to face the possibility of deportation - however remote - adds enormously to the stress of adjustment.
We analyzed some of the pressure in this article last September and hope to update the story soon.
In the meantime, we continue to be inspired by the resiliency of the refugees and the dedication of their American volunteers. Cooking is certainly a logical way for refugees to find an outlet for their talents while also bringing in an income. You might be interested in two strong community-based programs along the same lines: Emma's Torch and the Mera Kitchen Collective.
We will report back again when our Afghan friends complete their first commission.
Once again, many thanks! We are enormously grateful.
Iain and the AP team
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