Article and Photos by Carmela Burke

There were enough pieces to fill 25 laundry baskets. Two partner agencies already notified American Red Cross Los Angeles Region International Services workers of their interest in receiving a few baskets for refugee families cleared for resettlement in the United States.

Once a year, Red Cross Youth Service Clubs throughout Los Angeles County spearhead a Refugee Welcome Basket Drive to assist the Los Angeles Region’s International Services Program.  Members collect a variety of new, unopened and unused household items to help lessen the stress faced by families finding a new home.  “In these welcome baskets, we also include Red Cross first aid kits, preparedness items, and information about the American Red Cross International Services Restoring Family Links (RFL) Program—a free service to reconnect families separated by crises who have no other means of communicating with one another,” according to Basket Build project coordinator, Carly Klein.

Who are refugees?

The International Federation of the Red Cross (, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR (, and the International Rescue Committee ( put forth similar definitions of refugee as “someone fleeing country of origin and cannot return due to well-founded fear of persecution and/or violence for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group.”

In the United States, UNHCR estimates that since 1975, 3 million refugees have resettled in the country.  In 2017, at many as 24,500 refugees resettled in the U.S. (

New Lease on Life

Arriving and adapting to a new environment will include assessing immediate needs toward self-sufficiency.  Once that need is met—or along with that–newly-resettled families ponder education, health care, and learning more about their local community.

“Most refugees who resettle in the greater Los Angeles area are from Armenia, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. We have also provided welcome baskets to asylum seekers who typically arrive from Central America,” said Kerry Khan, International Services Program manager at the Red Cross Los Angeles Region.  Red Cross RFL Caseworkers connect with Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Services (IRIS) to help with basic needs as families transition to their new environment. “These resettlement agencies let us know when a family has arrived in Los Angeles.  We either provide a welcome basket directly by meeting with the family, or bringing the basket to the agency so that they can provide the basket,” according to Khan. “If we meet with the family, we call them to introduce ourselves and the Red Cross, then make an appointment to bring the welcome basket to them at their home.”

Recently, caseworker Klein went to the Southern California office of the IRIS resettlement agency to meet two newly-arrived families: one from Honduras and another from El Salvador.  Welcome baskets in hand, Klein got acquainted with family members and offered a brief cultural presentation to familiarize them with common hazards like home fires, earthquakes, wildfires—and how they can best prepare for these natural and man-made disasters.

The welcome baskets are a drop in the bucket of vocational, economic, and general support newly-arrived refugee families require to rebuild their lives and thrive.  As a member of the Refugee Forum of Los Angeles, the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region continues to assist vulnerable populations–and will be a participating agency on World Refugee Day on June 20, 2018.

For involvement opportunities with Red Cross Youth Clubs or International Services, visit


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1 Comment

  1. A very touching and thought-provoking article.

    Thank you, Carmela.

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