BY LUCY GUANUNA
EAGLE ROCK — When Miry Whitehill visited the home of refugees who had arrived from Syria only weeks before, she was shocked by what she saw. The family’s apartment was nearly empty and lacked some basic essentials, like a refrigerator and a crib. “This woman had a baby the same age as mine and was not able to put her baby down because she didn’t have anywhere to put him,” said Whitehill. That’s when Whitehill decided that something needed to be done.
Whitehill, a former marketing exec and current treasurer of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, started what became known as Miry’s List, a website that crowdsources donated goods for Syrian and other refugees in California.
After meeting the Syrian family in their barren apartment last summer, Whitehill asked an Arabic-speaking friend to act as translator to make a list of all the supplies they needed. She immediately posted it to Facebook, and within three days, strangers were bringing furniture and other items, said Whitehill.
“It was really moving to watch Eagle Rock in this act of communal kindness, and it’s continuing today,” said Whitehill. “New arrivals come [and] various neighbors take responsibility to help them.”
Whitehill has formed relationships with caseworkers and motel owners throughout Eagle Rock and Glendale, where many families are set up before being placed in permanent housing. After they put her in contact with refugee families, she tracks them down, gets them a phone, creates a list of what the families are lacking and then uses social media to broadcast those needs.
Whitehill has taken advantage of technology to connect the refugee families with donors. She uses Facebook Live, for example, to reach large numbers of potential donors and volunteers. She took advantage of WhatsApp to have text messages from families translated by a network of volunteers from around the world. Now, a new app being created by a group of developers at Microsoft for free that will enable families to create and manage lists on their own from anywhere in the country. The app launches in the next few weeks.
“There’s this whole army of people who won’t rest until [these families have] what they need to feel safe,” she said.
Since July 2016, Miry’s List has provided aid to dozens of families and currently has more than 70 active lists filled with each family’s needs. But supplies aren’t the only things donated to refugee families. A mother offered her time and love of event planning to put together “an all-American rager” at a park with face painting and a smash cake for the 1st birthday of a baby born in a Jordanian refugee camp, said Whitehill.
Miry’s List volunteers have also had to comfort fearful refugee families in the wake of the Trump Administration travel bans aimed at Syria and other countries.
“The only reason [Trump] can have a ban on refugees is because he has this false opinion of ‘we don’t know who these people are,’” Whitehill said. But, though her work, Whitehill said she knows first-hand who they are.
“They text me everyday. I sit with them and eat food with them at their table and they come to my house and our kids play together,” she said. “If the people creating these laws were to actually get to know these people, it would be so different.”
Correction: A previous version of this post identified the woman in the U-Haul truck photo as Miry Whitehill. That’s wrong. The woman is Dana Belton
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Lucy Guanuna is a freelance reporter who has covered a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.
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