Members in six congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northern Virginia participated in a local drive to collect, sort and pack more than 4,100 boxes filled with thousands of blankets and coats weighing more than 124,000 pounds that filled seven large moving vans for Syrian refugees.
Collection sites were set up at 31 Mormon meetinghouses, Islamic centers and mosques and various Fairfax County government locations to gather coats and blankets for shipment to Turkey, which is currently home to an estimated 2 million Syrian refugees.
Scott Wheatley, president of the Oakton Virginia Stake, said, “We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this effort to help the refugees in need. We are also grateful for the spirit of community and fellowship we all felt as we worked together, side by side, in a common effort. We have been uplifted and unified through our participation.”
In October, the First Presidency expressed concern for the refugees and encouraged Church members to participate in local relief projects where practical.
Church members in northern Virginia united with the local governments, the Northern Virginia Regional Council, local businesses and other local faith-based organizations to collect and pack the needed items. This is the third year that these northern Virginia organizations have combined forces to organize such a massive drive.
Packing boxes, moving trucks and shipment costs were provided by participating businesses, including the Paxton Companies and the Maersk Corporation.
Mark Gibb, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and a local Mormon bishop, said, “In 2013, the weight of the blankets was about 25,000 pounds. In 2014, the weight of the blankets was 39,000 pounds. This year, the weight of the blanket/coat drive is approximately 120,000 pounds, and more donations are still being received.”
“If we could stack all of the boxes on top of each other, it would be equivalent of 17 Statues of Liberty,” said Bishop Gibb. “That’s an amazing number when you think all this has been donated from just a part of northern Virginia — and more donations keep coming.”
Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, added, “We look forward to helping more people to be warm during the cold winter. But really we are interested in seeing an end to this unrest.”
“Many, many faiths stand behind this effort,” expressed President Wheatley. “When we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are in the service of our God. We do this because we follow Jesus Christ and we try to take care of those in need. Our highest Church leaders have asked us to assist in these types of efforts, and we are grateful to be part of it and grateful to our partners.”
He continued, “When we started this effort, I was convinced that most of us have unused blankets and coats in our closets. That was proven to be true as people streamed into our parking lots dropping off generous donations of coats and blankets. May God bless us in this effort, and may God bless the refugees.”