When Mt. Lebanon resident Elsa Santos immigrated to the United States from Portugal 13 years ago, she had a sister waiting for her, who made sure she had a place to sleep, food to eat and help finding a job. Still, it was stressful. The language barrier posed a huge problem, in addition to the need to transition to an entirely new world and life. But Elsa was luckier than many; more than 3,000 refugees resettled in Pennsylvania in the past year, and few of them had family members waiting for them at the airport. Instead, they met employees from one of the many refugee resettlement agencies—nonprofit organizations that help refugees with the struggles of transitioning to a new, successful life in the United States.
Santos’ sister, living in the United States for six years already, welcomed her to Marlboro, Massachusetts when Santos first arrived with her daughter. Like many refugees, Santos moved in order to take advantage of opportunities. “This is the dream land,” she says, naming education, jobs and the future of her child as the biggest reasons she came. She started out as a store manager for Dunkin’ Donuts when she first arrived and progressed to an area manager. Her background in grocery store management in Portugal came in handy and she’s since married and moved to Scrubgrass Road. Because of her experiences immigrating, Santos knew that refugees arriving both without language skills or family have it especially tough. This inspired her to begin working with Northern Area Multi-Service Center’s Community Assistance and Refugee Resettlement program, or NAMSC, one of the agencies that helps refugees make the transition to Pittsburgh.
Refugees have a lot on their plates: they need to find jobs, learn English, navigate their new hometown using public transportation and learn about an entirely new culture and its social norms—all this on top of a mountain of paperwork. Santos helps with all of this, shuttling refugees to appointments, answering their concerns and setting up homes for them. But for Pittsburgh refugees who in late fall or winter, the brutally cold weather poses another unexpected challenge—one many of them have never had to face and one Santos can’t assist with on her own.
That’s why NAMSC and Santos would like your help. They need warm clothes and other winter items for the newcomers who lack them—new or gently used hats, scarves, gloves and mittens, warm socks, boots and coats, snow shovels and even sidewalk salt. If you can donate any of these things, you’ll give refugee families a little less to worry about this winter, as they adjust to life in a cold, new world.