Service providers celebrated World Refugee Day despite blazing temps

Many of the agencies planned their World Refugee Day celebrations and activities for June 19, 2021. After the last year of societal reckoning with systemic racism and issues of equity and inclusion, it was not lost on the agencies that they were also celebrating and recognizing those too often considered “other” or “outsiders” on Juneteenth—the now federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people.

While many had the opportunity to commemorate this holiday for the first time this year, Juneteenth is considered to be the longest-running African American holiday. And it was reassuring to see local resettlement agencies and service providers across the state embrace the spirit of the day and channel that energy into embracing all who came to their celebrations.

It was a hot one, to say the least. Well into the 90s, it was the kind of day when you’d break into a sweat just stepping outside. There was no reprieve the day before or even the morning of their events as they set up tables, chairs, booths, food tents, etc. But they gave it their all and managed to stay safe while navigating lingering COVID concerns.

The International Institute kicked off their Festival of Nations season in St. Louis with an event featuring live music, snacks, drinks and activities, and they welcomed over 200 attendees throughout the day, according to Melissa George, Senior Development and Events Specialist at the institute. They served food and drinks from local businesses, three of which are immigrant-owned, and were able to raise more than $6,000 for the institute’s programs and services.

In Columbia, Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri’s Refugee and Immigration Services team also provided a whale of a time. “Incredibly celebratory, incredibly hot,” is how Samantha Moog, CCCNMO’s Director of Refugee Services, described the day. The refugee youth-led event was complete with food trucks, informational booths, STEM activities, and live music, dance and spoken word performances. Local partners from the police and fire departments and public school attended as well as the mayor of Columbia to show their support. The health department also provided COVID-19 vaccinations onsite.

RAISE in Noel, Missouri, held a gathering in their Community Garden (featured in Welcoming America’s Taste of Belonging Cookbook). People in the community harvested onions and zucchini from the garden and then popped those veggies on the grill to share, Mike Newman, Executive Director, said. They also assembled a sandbox for children when their parents come to work on the garden. With some new volunteers in tow by the end of the day, it was quite a success all-around!

Della Lamb hosted a Service Day where volunteers were able to see aspects of refugee resettlement up close. They set up Della Lamb’s refugee resettlement room as well as load a van with supplies in preparation for a family arriving the following week.

Despite the blazing temperatures, communities across the state came out to show their support for refugees and immigrants, something that was not possible last year due to the state of the pandemic. Now we know how special the simple act of being together and sharing an experience with others can be. And it’s even sweeter when done in the name of welcoming and celebrating one another.


Written by