Refugees from many impoverished countries around the world were guests at a Thanksgiving dinner recently hosted by Heartland Alliance. Refugees from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Myanmar and Somalia were among some of those who were at the event.
Heartland Alliance’s Refugee and Immigrant Community Services program participated in the meal at their North Side offices. Staff members explained the meaning and traditions of Thanksgiving to a packed room of people from all walks of life, races and beliefs.
The program continued with a showing of Charles Schulz’s “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” where the cartoon characters portray one of the very first Thanksgiving feasts recorded in American history.
The meal at Heartland included two turkeys with gravy, stuffing, cranberry side dishes, potatoes with cheese, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie for desert. To accommodate Muslim guests, one of the two turkeys was prepared by the Islamic requirements of Halal.
The third annual employee-cooked and served meal was given as thanks to Heartland’s clients and another way to convey and teach a favored American tradition.
“Thanksgiving is a particularly resonant holiday for refugees,” said Lea Tienou-Gustafson, the agency’s associate director of refugee family adjustment and employment services.
Only a staggering one percent of refugees worldwide get resettled, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. Those who flea other countries due to political oppression or war face an incredible amount of obstacles along the way. The Heartland dinner was a time to temporarily forget ones troubles and woes. Many people were in good spirits as they fellow-shipped with each other at the meal.
“I think our participants are really thankful to be building a new life here,” said Tienou-Gustafson.
RefugeeOne, Illinois’ largest resettlement agency was also involved. The agency which helps find “host homes” is coordinating holiday dinners with volunteers and donors who participate in hosting refugees in this country.
“It’s a way of really experiencing Thanksgiving in its original form, connecting people who hadn’t known each other before,” said Sara Spoonheim Amit, RefugeeOne’s director of development.
“Refugees probably more than any other Americans are so mindful of what they are grateful for — for their lives, a place to come home, the opportunity to work,” Amit said.
Explaining and demonstrating a day of thanks must have been a strange concept to some of the refugees who were at the dinner in Chicago. Some people who arrive at various Chicago destinations usually aren’t prepared for the harsh winter. Some wear only sandals and light clothing not appropriate for Chicago’s brutally cold weather.
“When they arrive here, they are starting from scratch,” said Heartland Alliance case manager Gilia Barih. “They lost everything.” For more information about Heartland Alliance, visit their website. To become involved with RefugeeOne, Illinois, visit their website.