BY EMILY McPHEE
A nondescript pop-up warehouse in an industrial park on the outskirts of Fredericton has become a place of new beginnings.
It’s a place where families from Syria who left everything behind when they fled from a terrible war can find things they need to start making homes in a new land.
Most of the Syrian families who’ve arrived in New Brunswick in recent weeks carried all their possessions in a few suitcases. When they move into homes and apartments with their children, they need, well, everything.
The warehouse was set up by the Multicultural Association of Fredericton and Alicia Stewart has been volunteering there since January. She’s getting to know newcomers by name as they come looking for the things they need.
“It’s their first start of creating a foundation here and making it seem like home,” she says. “There’s a lot of good karma here.”
She spends time daily on the Kijiji website, looking for household items for sale and contacting the vendors to ask if they will donate to the warehouse.
“Some people receive it negatively, some positively and they have given generously. You get to see the good of Frederictonians – a lot of people have donated a lot of good stuff.”
Alicia’s mother, Darlene, also volunteers at the warehouse. The mother-daughter duo are dedicated to the job, often staying far past operational hours cleaning and organizing the warehouse.
A single door at the back of the warehouse is propped open as we pull into the parking lot on a bitter February Saturday morning.
Before we turn off the car, three cars pull in beside us, most of them at maximum passenger capacity. Children, teenagers, adults and one man with a clipboard emerge from a sedan on our left.
To the right, another man with a clipboard bustles and fusses with a box being loaded into a van.
There’s heavy traffic at the back door. We make our way inside the toasty warehouse.
There are piles of household items and clothes on the main floor and second-floor loft. Several mattresses lean against the wall by the door, donated by a hotel in town. Couches have sticky notes with names, phone numbers and addresses on them.
Coffee machines are stacked on a fold-out table, beside a corner dedicated to children’s toys. The loft is filled mostly with clothing, from sandals to boots, an impressive selection for an operation that came together quickly.
The multicultural association has been in Fredericton for more than four decades and is playing a central role in the integration of more than 300 newcomers in the first weeks of 2016.
It put out a call for volunteers a few months ago. The clipboard holders in the parking lot are part of this program, jotting down notes and checking off items needed as they help set up families in their new homes.
We’re told that some days, there’s too much of one item, on other days, dishware and teapots fly off the shelves faster than they can be replenished.
“When you hear some of their stories it really puts in perspective why you’re here,” says Darlene Stewart. “You want to do whatever you can to help them out. It’s an opportunity to meet the families coming in and putting a smile on their faces is great.”
“They’re so grateful that we’re here to help,” she says, tears welling up in her eyes. “It’s a good feeling knowing we’re here doing something good for someone else.”
The Stewarts encourage people to get involved with the warehouse, or any kind of volunteering that could help someone settle in their new home.
“My ancestors came from Scotland on a boat years and years ago and were refugees at one point,” says Darlene. “I think it’s important for all of us to work together and help each other out.”
The Multicultural Association of Fredericton is accepting donations of furniture and small appliances for Syrian families Donations can be dropped off at 300 Urquhart Crescent in the Vanier Industrial Park
The drop-off schedule is 4-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10-12 a.m.
The warehouse currently needs:
- Mattresses (only in good and clean condition)
- Box springs
The warehouse will also accept the following items:
- Kitchen tables and chairs
- Wooden or metal dining, coffee and end tables, chairs
- Small kitchen appliances (microwaves, toasters, bread makers, coffee makers, irons, wall and alarm clocks)
- Bed frames and dressers (whole bed only in excellent condition)
- Modern TVs and stands
- Lamps (bedside, standing, table)
- Pots, pans, dishes, glasses, cutlery
- Baking pans & sheets, pots and pans
- Cutlery, cutting boards
- Baby items (playpens, high chairs, beds, toys, children’s books, puzzles)
- Bikes and bike parts