Midlands churches, St. Joseph School help Bantu refugees

COLUMBIA — When Nancy Godbold, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church, read in The State newspaper that approximately 120 Somali Bantu would be relocating to Columbia from Africa, she wanted to find a way to help the refugees from the war-torn country. She consulted with her fellow members of the Machin-Murphy Guild (the church’s altar guild), and her pastor, Msgr. Charles Rowland. Now the church has its own resettlement task force with Godbold at the helm.

Coordinating with Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Charities, St. Joseph Church is one of 26 churches sponsoring the refugees. St. Jude Church in Sumter and some parishioners from St. John Neumann in Columbia have joined the St. Joseph task force.

St. Peter Church in Columbia is also a sponsor, and Juanita Warthen is heading its resettlement team. They have begun collecting donations, and Warthen said there has been a good response from the parish.

Each sponsor has adopted one Bantu family and will take care of basic needs like rent and electricity for at least six months to a year. Although the Bantu families will probably not arrive until March or April of next year, preparations have already begun.

In fact, Lutheran Family Services (LFS) has a warehouse where it is storing donated household goods and furniture for the refugees’ apartments.

Godbold has formed several committees from her 22-member task force. For example, there is a hospitality committee that will greet each family at the Columbia airport, organize a churchwide reception in honor of the family, and keep up with birthdays and special occasions. The transportation coordinator will make sure the family is able to keep appointments and eventually learn to use the transit system. They may also look into the possibility of purchasing bicycles for the families to use in getting around their neighborhoods.

The food coordinator will stock the shelves of the apartments and offer tips on cooking and shopping. To help ease the language barrier, LFS will provide daily English classes at the refugees’ homes. Sister Monica Ulrich, a Sister of St. Mary of Namur, said she will tutor the children and adults.

In an effort to find work for the adults as quickly as possible, an employment coordinator will work with an LFS caseworker to find suitable jobs for them.

When Sister Christina Murphy, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and principal at St. Joseph School, read Godbold’s request for help in the church bulletin, she got her school involved. She organized a schoolwide walk-a-thon to raise money for school supplies.

Each grade was responsible for providing specific items, such as dictionaries, book bags, crayons and notebooks.

The walk-a-thon took place on Oct. 31, and a truckload of school supplies was collected, probably enough for the whole settlement.

“The excitement and enthusiasm is out of control,” said second-grade teacher Liz Whitlark on the day of the walk-a-thon. “There have been non-stop contributions!”

Katelin Rucker, a first-grader who participated in the walk-a-thon, was glad to donate crayons to the Bantu children.

“When they miss their animals and friends, they can draw, and it will make them feel better, especially when it rains,” she said.

Kim Mauro gave out water bottles to the children during the walk. “I am just glad to have the opportunity to come together as a group to support the needy,” the mother said.

If you’d like to help the Bantu refugees, please contact Tracy Kroll at Catholic Charities at (803) 254-9776, or Lutheran Family Services Representative Suzanne Wofford at (803) 750-9917 ext 130.