Earlier this week I dragged my kids out of the house to run some errands. Our stamina for this sort of thing is not great these days. We have to wear shoes?! And potentially see people outside of our house?! Are we sure this is a good idea?? But I coaxed them with a stop to pick up our library holds, and though their new books kept them fairly happy and distracted, they were still cranky and whiny and bickering as we neared the end. So much so that I almost skipped the last errand: checking our Butterfly Boxes PO Box. But we were nearby and it had been a ridiculously long time since it had been checked. So I ignored the bickering, and pulled in to the post office.
And I am so happy I did.
Waiting for us inside box 13754 was the happiest of happy mail. There was a donation, yes, but this sweet note is what made me tear up as I sat in my car ignoring the two kiddos poking at each other in back seat.
"Thank you Butterfly Team for the work you do. I wish I could do more. Maybe after Covid I will volunteer."
The complaints from the back ceased as my kids noticed that I wasn't paying any attention to them, and they asked what I was reading. I showed them the note, and, in the way of 7- and 10-year-olds, they oohed and aahed, said it was cool, and asked for my phone to send their aunt Adrienne a picture of it.
The thing is, when we started Butterfly Boxes, when it was just a little seed of an idea, I was desperate to show my kids that people were still so good. People were welcoming and kind and, when given the opportunity, would give what they could to the community around them. Adrienne and I believed that to our absolute core, though what was happening in the world around us had shaken us. So we set a mission to welcome, and to be intentional about inviting people to welcome with us in a variety of ways. And we grew our little baby non-profit, and when it was ready, we put it out into the world, confident in our efforts, but ultimately unsure of what would happen, of who would join us in our mission, or if anyone would at all.
Well, it's four-and-a-half years later, and if you're following us, you know we had no reason to worry. Because of course people are good. Of course people are welcoming. Of course people want to send a toothbrush or a backpack or a sweet stuffy to help welcome a newcomer to our beautiful community. Of course people want to give two hours on a Saturday to come pack bags. Of course people want to gather to eat a delicious meal and meet new neighbors. Of course.
And even though we know the "of course" is true, it never makes the confirmation of that truth any less exciting. Four-and-a-half years ago, as we tracked donations, first from our family and friends, then from friends of friends, then from states and people we had no traceable personal connections with, we exclaimed to each other, "It worked! People are giving! People want to help!"
Four years ago when we hosted our first pot luck, as Adrienne and I collapsed exhausted into a booth for a post-event treat, we stared at each other agape. "It worked! People came! People ate! People talked! People want to meet their neighbors!"
Eighteen months ago, we set a goal to provide 300+ bags for Guatemalan asylum seekers in rural Oregon communities, and we received so many donations, we filled a huge box truck AND both of our cars. Ultimately, we did pack over 300 bags, and on the drive home from Salem, we called each other from our individual cars, still in awe of what our community helped us pull off. "It worked! People sent enough!"
And most recently, just this last November, in the middle of a pandemic, of chaos and uncertainty, we set our most ambitious goal yet for our Warm Winter Welcome. Coats, hats, gloves, and blankets for TWO organizations we partner with. Surely this time we set the bar too high. More people are struggling, people have less to give. We prepared ourselves to maybe not meet our goal this year.
But, of course. Of course the goal was met. Of course our community came through, as they truly ALWAYS DO. As I slowly lost sight of my washer and dryer to the mountains of coats and blankets, Adrienne and I called each other, multiple times a day. "Someone sent us ten men's coats! Look at these hand knit hats! People gave so much, we can get MORE blankets!"
As we start to move past the last year, we are in a place of rebuilding. During the pandemic, we passed nearly all of our inventory on to our partners at Refugee and Immigrant Hospitality Organization, so that it could be put to better use than sitting in a closet. So step one of rebuilding is restocking our inventory to be able to pack our bags. We are currently making specific asks for:
- finished Butterfy Boxes bags, all ages (but older kid and teen boy bags are always lacking)
- resuable face masks and small hand sanitizers, as we will now be including these in all bags, kids to adults. Numerous options can now be found on both our Amazon and Target (sort by "Most Wanted") wish lists.
We know that this may feel like a time when we are ALL rebuilding a bit after the last year, and that many resources are stretched quite thin. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth, or a share on social media. Even if you are unable to give right now, word might reach someone who can. If you are not already, you can follow us on both Instagram and Facebook @butterflyboxespdx.
As for the last part of this sweet note, "Maybe after COVID I will volunteer"? That's step two of our rebuilding. Stay tuned.
Alysson and Adrienne
It's a complete mess, and we love to see it.
Our Warm Winter Welcome is officially a wrap, and though we are still sorting and organizing, just the fact that this is the state of our laundry room (and the rest of the basement!) tells us that this year's drive was our most successful to date. You all brought it and we are truly blown away. Here's what you all did this year:
- 100 blankets are on their way to Refugee & Immigrant Hospitality Organization - RIHO
- 100+ pairs of hand warmers are in their way to RIHO.
- Nearly 80 stuffies from Puddletown Knitters Guild are also headed to RIHO.
- 172 coats will be delivered to Catholic Charities of Oregon Refugee Resettlement program this week.
- 100+ hats and gloves for kids and adults will also go to Catholic Charities.
- Another 70+ stuffies from Puddletown will go to Catholic Charities.
But here’s the best part, the big surprise, the cherry on top. Because of donations we received and a grant from the Windermere Real Estate Foundation, we were able to purchase an ADDITIONAL 50+ blankets for refugee families being served through Catholic Charities. That’s an additional 50 families that will be cozy and warm at home this winter. We’ll say it all day, every day. THANK YOU!!!!!
It's been a rough few months, hasn't it? Whether you find yourself now working from home, schooling from home, supporting loved ones, putting yourself on the line as an essential worker, or any other version of this "new normal", we hope this post finds our community as healthy, happy, and contented as can be.
We have been quiet around here, though we are thankfully well. Refugee arrivals have been few and far between during this pandemic, and the church that houses our storage closet closed its doors through the summer. So, there's been very little news to report in this space.
But we are now feeling some hope. The election news has given us hope. Passing on some of our donations to the Refugee and Immigrant Hospitality Outreach, an organization doing the on-the-ground work with some of our most vulnerable neighbors, has given us hope. And making plans for our annual Warm Winter Welcome donation drive has given us hope.
Exchanging emails with our partner organizations, strategizing our social media posts, excitedly searching for the best deals on our wish list items; it all feels very early days to us. When we had an idea, and every new idea that made us think we could really do this needed to be immediately shared and talked over. Would people want to donate? Would they trust us with their donations? Would we actually be able to do the thing we were hoping to do? All these feelings are popping up again as we ready ourselves to make one of the biggest asks of our little nonprofit's life:
- 150 coats for adults and children experiencing their first or second winter in the PNW.
- 150 hats and gloves for the same.
- 100 blankets for families who may not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter.
- 100 hot water pads.
- 100 hand warmers.
There is so much we cannot do right now. We cannot fill our space with volunteers and pack a closet full of bags. We cannot share a meal with our neighbors. We can't even hug each other! But this feels like something we can do. We can wrap our neighbors in warmth. We can spread kindness. We can, once again, watch our community come together and take care of each other.
XO, Alysson & Adrienne
Wow! We are amazed. Again.
The truth is we shouldn't be. From the moment we started Butterfly Boxes three years ago, our community has come through every single time we've asked. You've helped us give hundreds of welcome bags to refugees as they've flown into PDX. You've shown up to share meals and stories at our community potlucks (and given us dishes to help keep them sustainable). You gave bike helmets and locks when we worked with partners to give a hundred bikes to refugee children. You've given coats and blankets. You've DONE SO MUCH! So we shouldn't have been surprised. But we were.
We asked you to help us fill 300 bags for asylees. This is the story of what happened over the next six weeks.
You filled our storage unit and both of our homes. With bags and boxes full of backpacks, towel sets, toiletries (soap is so fragrant!), water bottles, stuffed animals, books, socks and so much more.
We held two volunteer days to get organized and take stock of what we still needed so we could keep you updated about what was still needed to reach our goal. A few of you worked with friends, neighbors, and colleagues to gather large donations to drop off. One of you even made this your bat mitzvah project - thanks and mazel tov!
Then the deadline came. The moment of truth. Did we have enough? Inventory numbers indicated we were awfully close. We had your donations in three different places. Amazon was still delivering boxes. We were one day away from the massive bag packing. We crossed our fingers and trusted our counts.
We've held a lot of volunteer days, and we've packed a lot of bags. But we've never packed more than 80 bags in one day and never had more than 20 volunteers to help. This required some serious organization. We needed a plan, signs, and labels.
Did we mention that this bag packing was the service project for the 2019 Migrant Youth Forum? In Salem, OR? That meant getting all your donations loaded onto a truck and down the interstate to be ready for students to pack the bags. Huge thanks to Migrant Education staff and Willamette ESD for making that happen!
More than 20 students joined in on the service project, starting with unloading that massive truck. Then we needed to get each box and bag to the right station. We'd set up five: one for opening all those last minute Amazon packages, one for making toiletry kits, one for rolling towel sets, and two for packing bags.
These students were incredible! They worked together to do every task we set before them. Their efforts made it possible to pack more bags than we've ever packed in a single volunteer event before. They packed more than double the bags. More than triple the bags.
THEY PACKED 323 BAGS!
42 infant/toddler bags.
133 child bags.
90 teen bags.
And 58 adult bags.
You all didn't just meet the goal we set - you exceeded it. Our community continues to come through for our newest neighbors each and every time we ask. You give us hope and remind us that we still live in a world with people who care about our most vulnerable.
You know what else? We packed these bags the day before the third anniversary of Butterfly Boxes' founding. We can't imagine a better birthday gift. Thank you to everyone who donated your time and treasure. You did it. You exceeded the goal we set, the bags have been delivered to 4 rural communities around the state, and we are so grateful.
❤️ Adrienne & Alysson
As many of you will remember, an executive order was signed in late January that halted all refugee resettlement in the United States, effective immediately. In short order, confusion, chaos, and outrage erupted. We were as flummoxed as anyone else, but as an organization serving refugees, watched as our inboxes filled with messages from people wanting to help in some way. This outpouring of caring and hope and the urge of so many to "do something" was touching, but we did not know what to do with it. We make welcome bags, and there were no more refugees to welcome. What good were these backpacks stuffed with essentials and comfort items if there was no one to receive them? What is Butterfly Boxes without the "boxes"?
Over the next few weeks, as this initial executive order was deemed unconstitutional and we watched new travel bans pop up in its place, we puzzled through what our role might be in this changing landscape. We began with the simple idea to welcome refugees to their new home in Oregon. Perhaps there was a way to expand that beyond our airport arrival bags. And perhaps there was a way to invite others to do the work of welcoming as well.
But here's the thing with welcoming. It's not as easy as it sounds. There are language barriers. And cultural differences. There's fear of the unknown, social anxiety. There are travel considerations, and privacy issues. It's a hard thing to ask a group of people to stretch beyond their comfort level, and we struggled with how to make an ask like that successful. And then we found the answer where answers are often found...
...in a plate of food.
Something happens when you share a meal with someone. The food and drink in front of you gives you something to do with your hands, allows silences to not be immediately filled, and gives a place for conversation to begin.
"Have you tried the pasta salad?"
"Does the rice have nuts?"
"Do you have Doritos where you come from?"
It was this thought, the thought of a shared meal, of a room full of people coming together for food and conversation that led us to our Community Dinners, to what our role could be as the future of refugee resettlement continues in uncertainty. Once a month, we invite established community members and newly arrived refugees to come together in the offices of Catholic Charities of Oregon for a meal. We ask community members to bring the food, and were able to schedule the dinners to begin immediately following the cultural orientation classes put on by Catholic Charities. There is no program to the evening, no ask of those who are coming (other than bringing food to share). It is simply a chance to eat incredible food and meet new people and to say welcome to our newest community members.
We hosted our first dinner in March, in partnership with Catholic Charities. In the weeks leading up to the dinner, we worried about everything. Would community members come? Would refugees come? Would people bring food? Would people talk to each other? Would this work? Were we crazy?
200 people came. Community members. Refugees, both recently arrived and those who've come to the US in every decade since 1960. Folks from refugee resettlement. Police officers. Friends and friends of friends and people we had never met before. Every time the elevator door opened, at least a dozen people got off. And the food. There was so much food. Amazing food. We had to scramble to find more tables to put the food on. We fed 200 people and sent mass amounts of leftovers home with families. It was a whirlwind of "hellos" and "nice to meet yous" and "welcomes" and when it was over, we could hardly believe it had worked.
Would it work again? April, May, and - just last week - July. Three more dinners. Three more successes. There are familiar faces every month, but there continue to be new faces as well. And to those new faces, as long as we see them, we will say, "Welcome".
Familiar face or new, please consider joining us at our next Community Dinner. Check here for more information.
We help because it’s the right thing to do.
We help because we believe in the humanity of all people.
We help because there’s a need and we happened upon a workable plan to address it.
We help because we know our family wouldn’t exist without those who came before us.
1960. Havana, Cuba.
A banker walked out of work and into a car that whisked him away to the airport. He boarded a plane to New York City. When he arrived, he called his wife and told her he’d left and she needed to find a way for her and their ten children to join him.
Earlier, in the bank, he’d once again refused to work for the communist regime that was quickly converting his –and all- banks to state-controlled entities. Decades later, family lore claims he declared he’d sell his soul to the devil before he’d work for Castro. In the car, his driver proved to be a loyal friend, tipping him off to the fact that an execution order had been placed on him.
While he toiled in New York, his wife took action back home in Havana. She joined the counter-revolution and made plans for her family’s escape. She successfully avoided raising suspicions among the spies and newly-stationed soldiers who lived down the block. She acquired the necessary paperwork to leave the country. When the rules changed between the time she first acquired the documents and when they received permission to leave, she started the process anew. And when the United States refused her and their ten children visas, she sought another country’s assistance.
Months after receiving the phone call from her husband, with the blessing and assistance of the British Embassy, the family boarded a plane to Jamaica. They’d packed only the essentials. Still, when they arrived at the airport, soldiers inspected their luggage and removed items with any monetary value. These eleven people boarded a plane to begin a new life with two suitcases containing a small number of clothes, a few paper records, and two photo albums. Once on the plane, they sat on the tarmac in fear until takeoff. They’d heard the stories about soldiers boarding planes full of those leaving their country and forcibly removing a handful of children, pulling them away from their families to work in camps, and then sending the plane off with the remaining family members still on board. They knew it was possible they wouldn’t all be leaving the island; they knew it was possible they might not all remain together.
This time, the plane took off with all of the passengers who’d boarded. This time, none of the passengers would pay a bodily price for their decision to leave. Instead, back on the island, the man’s brother paid the price with two years of imprisonment and torture.
The wife and children found a warm welcome in Jamaica, but it wasn’t their final destination. They intended to reunite the family in the United States, so she set to work on yet more documentation. The man moved to Miami, and soon the eight oldest children joined him. Months later, his wife and their two youngest flew over their beloved Cuba to reach the rest of their family. Even still, it wasn’t the final leg of their journey. Many Cubans were settling in Miami, but not all. An influx of people meant there wasn’t enough work for everyone, and wages that could support a family of twelve proved elusive. So by March 1961, the family boarded one more plane to Portland, where they were resettled as refugees by an organization that would come to be called Catholic Charities of Oregon.
That man was my grandfather, his wife my grandmother, and the fifth of their children my father. The journey wasn’t without struggle, and their acclimation to Portland wasn’t always easy. But ultimately those ten children grew up, found success in careers, and started families of their own. And they taught their children and grandchildren that none of that would have been possible without the help of those who cared about doing right for humanity, from the driver who saved my grandfather’s life to those who welcomed them on each leg of their journey.
We help because we believe in paying forward the generosity of those who helped our family survive.
Adrienne & Alysson
Adrienne has been sharing brief vignettes of our family’s life in post-revolutionary Cuba in public Facebook posts. If you’re interested in reading the stories of children living under a dictatorial regime that ultimately forced their parents to flee for their safety, find a directory here.
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
If we say "thank you" too many times, does it start to become redundant? Lose its true meaning? I hope not, because once again, the only words that can truly convey what we experienced yesterday are a very heartfelt THANK YOU.
When, days before Christmas, we put the call out for volunteers to come help us assemble bags, we didn't know what to expect. Would people show up? Would our plan work? Would our ideas make sense? Would everyone have fun? As has happened time and again in the last six weeks, our worries were for nothing and our expectations were exceeded.
Our volunteers rocked.
They showed up in force and ready to work. From toddler to adult, everyone was doing a job, and the completed bags piled up. KPTV 12 stopped by to chat with us (see below for the link to that news story), and as Adrienne and I broke away to be interviewed, the buzz of productivity continued behind us.
When we began the afternoon, we thought we might finish the event with 35 bags to give to Catholic Charities for distribution. We felt good about that number, and were told that that might meet, or come close to meeting, the need for January. That would have been a fantastic day's work, and we would have walked away from the afternoon feeling pretty darn good. Well, that didn't happen. Not even close.
Instead, our AMAZING crew completed 62 bags. 62 bags. In two hours. 62 bags that will go into the arms of 62 refugees just stepping off a plane into a new home. 62 bags that will help 62 people transition from a life unsettled to a place where they can take hold and grow. 62 bags that will bring comfort and the most basic of necessities to 62 people who have so little.
It's a day later and we are still marveling at what we were witness to yesterday. To have been able to step back for a moment and see this thing that we dreamed up actually working was incredible. Friends, family, new acquintances all teaming up to bring Butterfly Boxes to life. We are, as always, so thankful.
Please continue supporting and spreading the word, and we'll do it all again next month!
- Alysson and Adrienne