Smithers residents opened their hearts and their wallets last month to raise more than $14,000 to help bring a Syrian refugee family to the Bulkley Valley.
On Oct. 21, the St. James Anglican Church sponsored a dinner of homemade soups and desserts to collect donations for the Bulkley Valley Refugee Sponsorship Group.
The group is applying to sponsor a family of refugees from Syria, where war has forced millions of citizens to flee and seek refuge in other countries.
Smithers woman Pauline Mahoney started the application in September, feeling compelled to help in some way after hearing harrowing stories from the crisis.
After publicizing the plan she was introduced to Montaha Awil and Akram Khalil, a Syrian couple who live in Smithers with their two daughters.
Mahony announced at the dinner that the group had applied to sponsor their cousin, his wife and three children, who are in Lebanon after fleeing their country to escape the war.
“I am really super happy and excited to tell you that we have a family who are refugees from Syria and they are currently living in Lebanon,” she said.
“We were able to connect with this family through the sole Syrian family that already live here in our community and they have very kindly and very skilfully acted as an intermediary.”
The family are waiting for their passports to be reissued to continue the process.
Awil and Khalil were at last week’s fundraising dinner, where they offered to answer questions and explain where in Syria they are from.
Awil said at the event she was overwhelmed by the number of people there.
“I thought I would find a small group of people so I brought a plate of baklava which will be very little for that many people, but next time we will provide a lot,” she said.
“I thought it would be just a little meeting with the main group and people from the church, I didn’t know there would be that many people — makes me so happy.”
When she told her relatives about the fundraising effort in Smithers they were speechless.
“It was kind of a shock that somebody would do that much for them, they don’t expect much there,” she said.
She said everybody in Syria was affected by the war because, in addition to the conflict, the cost of living had skyrocketed.
When Awil’s cousin and his family arrive in Smithers, Mahoney and four others will be responsible for their first year in Canada.
Last week’s dinner was the first of a series of events the group is holding to fundraise the $40-$50,000 it needs to sponsor the family.
St. James Anglican Church member Curt Gesch said the church was considering how it could help refugees from Syria when it heard about the community effort.
He said some church members had been inspired by a recent trip to Greece where they saw villagers
helping refugees who arrived on boats.
Some members of the church were also inspired by a worship passage which focused on justice issues.
“We said ‘we have to do what we can do’ and we just started talking and before long we found out about this group, it was wonderful,” he said.
The sponsorship group is also planning a Get to Know Syria night on Nov. 21 to raise more money for the application.
The event, which will include a slide-show and information about the country, will be catered with Syrian foods cooked by Awil.
For more information about upcoming events or how to contribute visit their website. www.bvsponsorshipgroup.weebly.com