A couple of weeks ago, a local elementary school reached out to us, wanting to use their Day of Service to have first graders make cards for Butterfly Boxes, specifically for children arriving and preparing to attend a new school in their new home. We were thrilled to say yes, and headed over to Sitton School on Friday afternoon, Inauguration Day.
In a former life, I was a kindergarten teacher, so I happily hopped up in front of 75 adorable and eager faces. We asked the kids to share with us what they knew about refugees, expecting them to have some familiarity, maybe even some personal stories to share, but their answers blew us away.
"Refugees have to leave their homes because they are not safe."
"Refugees come to a new home and can't bring anything with them."
"Refugees start a new life because their old life is dangerous."
We asked the students to imagine having to move and pack up all their most important things in a suitcase shared with brothers or sisters. What could they bring? What would they have to leave behind? How do you choose? Jaws dropped and negotiations started as they realized the toys, the electronics, the stuff that would need to be left behind.
Finally, we asked the first graders to tell us what they would tell a new student, coming from somewhere far away, unfamiliar with school in Portland, OR, to help them feel welcomed at school.
"You are awesome"
"At school you will have fun."
"We love you."
"At school you are safe."
Our presentation finished, the students returned to their classrooms and got to work. We got to pop in and watch them work, help with sounding out words. Despite it being a Friday afternoon, after nearly a week off for snow days, these 6- and 7-year-olds were focused, ready for the task at hand. They worked hard writing and illustrating beautiful welcomes. We left that afternoon uplifted in a way we didn't think possible on a dark and dreary day.
Kids aren't suspect of refugees. They don't fear their motives or question their choices. It's really quite simple for kids: they hear there's a problem, they get to work finding a solution. For kids unfamiliar with school, cards to help them feel welcome are an easy fix. For people arriving with few possessions, a bag of necessities and basic comfort items is an easy fix. Easy fixes we can do. It's the bigger fixes that will take time.
Thanks to Sitton School for your support, thanks to the first graders for your hard work and beautiful cards, and thanks to everyone else who continues to support us.
Alysson & Adrienne
January 21, 2017 was a historic day. If you're reading this blog, chances are good you have also seen the photos and news stories from cities across the world, flooded by women and girls (and men and boys) in pink hats marching to make their voices heard. The accounts are astounding, the photos beautiful, and we stand 100% in support of those that were out there. In the city of Portland alone, over 100,000 people filled the downtown core in a 100% peaceful protest. We are so proud of this amazing city.
For our part, we knew we needed to do something meaningful on this day, but neither of us are good with large crowds, and I have two small children I was nervous about involving. So, we decided that January 21, 2017 would be the perfect date for our monthly volunteer event. Sixteen like-minded people joined us, and absolutely rocked the afternoon. In less than two hours, our crew put together 37 adult bags, and checked another 29 bags that had been donated in the last month.
All told, we delivered 66 finished bags to Catholic Charities, replenishing their stock just in time - they had delivered their last adult bag earlier in the week. As we finished stuffing bags onto their newly dedicated Butterfly Box shelving, a case manager arrived to pick up an adult bag to take to a newly resettled refugee. To all of our donors and volunteers, that need, and the others that follow, would have gone unmet if not for you. Thank you.
In addition to the date, the moment in history, this volunteer event meant a lot to us because for the first time, when introductions were made, most of the people who came to support our cause came just to support our cause, not also because they are our friends or family. Obviously, the support of our friends and family is incredible, and it's no less important that the support of others in our community. But, to look into a crowd of people and realize that they are there not because they love us, but because they heard about our organization and were moved enough to reach out and help, is an unbelievable feeling. We are so thankful for everyone's support, and we love seeing new faces and hearing from new people. It lets us know that we must be on the right track with this endeavor, and that regardless of what lies ahead, the hearts of so many remain open to the refugees arriving in Portland everyday.
Thank you again and again.
Alysson & Adrienne
There might be a day in the future when we stop looking at each other in wonder. At the volume of Amazon boxes UPS delivers every day. At the people who ask what more they can do to help. At the business owners who set out a box and ask their customers to contribute. That day might come, but I hope it's far in the future. You really can't beat the feeling of awe that happens when you learn the very best of people.
Even with that feeling coming every day, it can still catch me off-guard. That was true a few weeks ago when I heard from the owner of a knitting subscription company I'd subscribed to for several years. I had also done a little bit of consulting for the company, but I let that and my subscription lapse when a new owner came on board. I tried to put off his call by saying that I was far too busy with a new organization I'd started, but my excitement about Butterfly Boxes got the better of me when he asked if I'd tell him a little about it.
It turns out KNITCRATE owner Rob Colon and I have something in common. We both have parents who were children when their families were forced to flee Cuba after the revolution. For me and my family, that’s meant keeping an eye on how we can help new refugees as they are resettled in the same city that welcomed my grandparents to safely raise their 10 children. It’s meant paying forward the generosity that allowed my dad and his siblings to flourish. And more recently, it's meant Butterfly Boxes.
For Rob, this shared experience of the refugee history meant immediately responding with “How can KNITCRATE help?” Well... my dad’s family has a tradition of welcoming every new family member with a quilt made by many of us working together. We strive to have an echo of that tradition by committing to include handmade items in as many Butterfly Boxes as we can. After all, we’re welcoming new neighbors into our community. I told Rob about the snow that was swirling around out my window and about the family of 8 Somalis that we'd welcomed at the airport, just 2 pieces of luggage among them - none of which contained hats, gloves, or other cold-weather appropriate clothing. So I suggested sharing information about Butterfly Boxes with their subscribers, who live around the globe, hoping to encourage them to check out our website and contribute should they feel compelled - or to encourage them to find a similar opportunity local to them.
I wasn’t thinking big enough. Or not as big as Rob, anyway. He came back with a proposal to name Butterfly Boxes the KNITCRATE Charity of the Year for 2017. That feeling of awe grabbed hold of me again - he gets it. With more than 1,300 refugees arriving in our community this year, all lacking cold weather items like hats, gloves, & scarves, but also washcloths & comforting items like toys and baby blankets, the need is constant. And Rob wanted his company to do something about it.
Every month this year, we'll identify a high-need seasonal item, and Rob & his team will offer incentives to KNITCRATE subscribers who send their handmades to us to distribute in Butterfly Boxes.
We're going to be watching social media for #knitcrategives and #butterflyboxeshandmade, but I'm still steeling myself for the constant wonder of every time we open a package of handknits from around the world. We are so lucky. We get to learn and receive the very best of people.
Adrienne & Alysson