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Mercy Community Helps Mobilize Massive Effort to Support Afghan Refugees

Photo of volunteers

As soon as Mercy student and staff member Zenat Ishaq, M.P.A. ’22, heard the news about the refugee situation as the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, she jumped into action and helped mobilize a massive donation drive. Since August, she has volunteered dozens of hours to ensure that the refugees have the necessities they need to start over in their new homes. In true Mercy fashion, she embodies the College motto Inserviendo consumere (“consumed in service”) as she volunteers her time to help others.

The child of Afghan refugees herself, Ishaq grew up as part of a tight-knit Afghan-American community in New Jersey. Now at the beginning of a successful career — she currently works as an administrative assistant in Mercy’s nursing program — and a full-time student in Mercy’s Health Service Management program, she felt compelled to do whatever she could to help the newest Afghan Americans.

“The refugees are coming to this country with nothing,” she explained. “No real sense of the culture. No money. They don’t understand the language. They don’t even know if their families back in Afghanistan are okay. My community and I, we really wanted to make sure that they feel secure and that they know that there’s a community behind them.”

A contact at New Jersey’s Fort Dix relayed a list of supplies the refugees needed, which included clothing, blankets, toiletries, baby food, toys, prayer rugs, and much more. Members of the Afghan-American community helped spread the word. Within 24 hours, hundreds of cars started pulling up with boxes and bags full of donations, and still others gave money.

Ishaq is one of dozens of volunteers who have been collecting, organizing, and packing items and loading and unloading trucks to transport the items to a warehouse and eventually to Fort Dix. She was also responsible for shopping for women’s clothing using the donated funds. Visiting all kinds of stores, she searched for modest clothing in a range of sizes that could keep the refugees warm as temperatures dip this fall and winter.

When she mentioned her volunteer work in the office, her Mercy colleagues got involved to recognize and support her efforts. For example, Ishaq said that her director, Mercy’s Associate Dean of Nursing Miriam Ford, Ph.D. provided time for her volunteer, and several Mercy faculty members made donations.

In the past several weeks, Ishaq’s community-led group has organized multiple donation drives and continues to gather donations. They have also met with New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy’s team after the governor pledged to welcome a significant number of Afghan refugees to the state.

Though they have not yet met the refugees, Ishaq and members of the Afghan-American community are trying their best to welcome them from afar by making videos that send well wishes and involve children in writing cards to refugee children. “We want to make sure they don’t feel alone,” said Ishaq.

Any member of the Mercy community who wishes to donate or volunteer their time to support the Afghan refugees at Fort Dix may contact Zenat Ishaq at zishaq@mercy.edu.