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Kozachik partners with Habitat for Humanity to aid Afghan refugees

City Councilman Steve Kozachik's Ward 6 office and Habitat for Humanity have partnered to manage furniture donations for Afghan refugees, after the office was overwhelmed by items earlier this fall.

"The Tucson community has once again risen to the call for donations in support of refugees arriving from war-torn Afghanistan," said Kozachik in his email newsletter. "The slow pace at which the federal government is metering out the families is such that your response with donations was overwhelming our ability to efficiently store and distribute the items." 

With the office overwhelmed with furniture—as well as household goods such a microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, and crockpots—the Ward 6 office established a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, he said.

T. VanHook, the CEO for Habitat for Humanity Tucson, and her team "already work tirelessly" in the local refugee community, said Kozachik. "When I asked them to partner in managing donations, they didn’t hesitate in saying yes," he said.

Habitat for Humanity is also setting up a special Afghan Refugee fund at the HabiStore, Kozachik said. Half of the sale price of any donations tagged for the Afghan relief work will be deposited into that fund, he said.

"As Afghan families begin to arrive in larger numbers, they will have that fund to dip into if they are shopping at the HabiStore and run short of cash," he said. " While your furniture may not directly end up in the new home of one of the refugees, its value will be credited to Afghans as they shop to fulfill their own individual needs."

In addition, the Kaimas Foundation offered a $5,000 matching gift to help get the fund started, he said. Any money donated towards the Habitat Afghan fund will be matched up to $5,000 by Kaimas.

"Kaimas has supported nonprofits and communities in need throughout the world," said Kozachik. "Their Afghan matching donation is yet another demonstration of the compassion that guides their work."

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Kozachik has supported refugee and asylum seekers in Tucson over the last 10 years. This includes supporting efforts aiding Central American asylum seekers who began arriving at the Greyhound bus station in 2014, and later, Kozachik's office helped Catholic Community Services run the shelter at the Benedictine Monastery in Midtown Tucson through 2019.

Nearly 37,000 Afghan refugees will arrive in the U.S., spread across nearly all 50 states in the next few weeks, the State Department has said. California is expected to receive 5,225 refugees, and Texas will receive 4,481. Arizona is slated to have around 1,610 people from Afghanistan arrive in the next several weeks, the State Department said in September.

All told, there are about 55,000 Afghans, many of them staying at U.S. military bases where they've been living since their evacuation earlier this year.

The Biden administration said this week that it would shift how the Afghan refugee program is managed, allowing private organizations, including veterans groups, to help sponsor refugees and serve as their support network, as a way to speed up the program and get more people settled in the U.S.

Under the current program, Afghan evacuees are not eligible for food stamps, or cash assistance through programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for low income families, Medicaid or other traditional refugee services that are funded through the Department of Health and Human Services. And, Afghan refugees are slated to receive  $1,225 to help with rent, furniture, and food. The Biden administration has pushed on Congress to change this, putting Afghan evacuees under the same programs that cover other refugees through HHS.

"I’m grateful for the work being done by the Islamic Center of Tucson, St. Mark’s Church, Catholic Community Services, Lutheran Social Services and the International Refugee Committee to help transition Afghan families into the community," said Kozachik, adding that the addition of the partnership is "a big help in organizing furniture and home good donations."

"That added partnership was necessary because of the giving hearts that make up the Tucson community," Kozachik said. 

The Ward 6 office will accept items between 9 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday, he said. Those with furniture and home goods can contact the HabiStore Donation Hotline at 520-230-5323, and the group asked that people specify that their donation is for the Afghan refugee work, so they can "tag it and credit" the program properly. Items can be delivered to the HabiStore, or people can request a pick up.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

City Councilman Steve Kozachik speaking during a press conference at the Benedictine Monastery in 2019.