Former Iraqi refugee leads inspiring community outreach programs

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/12/21/former-iraqi-refugee-leads-inspiring-community-outreach-programs/

Fr. Milad Selim, dean of St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Worcester, understands firsthand what it is to be deprived of basic necessities. When his family escaped Iraq and fled to Jordan, he and his siblings were unable to attend school or find work. But after settling down in the thriving Middle Eastern Christian community in Worcester, things improved dramatically. Now, Fr. Selim leads a large congregation that sponsors some of the most generous charitable works in the region.

Church workers at the Save the Starving Children drive. (Courtesy of St. George's Church)

Church workers at the Feed My Starving Children drive. (Courtesy of St. George’s Church)

When Fr. Selim arrived at St. George’s six years ago, he saw a need to reach out to the wider community to help others who were also suffering. Initially, he partnered with Lutheran Social Services, which was providing food to refugees who were victims of human trafficking. With time, Fr. Selim noticed that many local people also needed help with food.

So Fr. Selim broadened his outreach initiative by approaching other clergy in the area. He compiled lists of disadvantaged families throughout Worcester, and obtained more names from a number of public schools. When he spoke about the problem to his congregation at St. George’s – many of whom were immigrants and former refugees – they responded with an outpouring of generosity.

In just one day, the huge crowd of volunteers prepared 110,000 meal packets for starving children. It was the largest charity drive of its kind in Massachusetts.

Among many other charitable activities, the church launched a Christmas Basket drive. Every year, the congregation raises $10,000 for 100 local families. The baskets they prepare contain Christmas dinner, other food items, and various necessities, such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, detergent, and towels that recipients have requested. Since the program began, church members have donated over $60,000 and have helped 600 families.

The church packed and distributed the packages last Saturday. Fr. Selim emphasized that the Christmas Baskets are given to a variety of poor families: “We don’t look at their religious affiliation or ethnicity. We serve people who are Muslim, Jewish, African-American, and many other backgrounds.”

Dr. George Wood of Paxton helps with the Christmas baskets. (Courtesy of St. George's Church)

Dr. George Wood of Paxton helps with the Christmas baskets. (Courtesy of St. George’s Church)

The most remarkable enterprise of this vibrant community was their Feed My Starving Children charity drive last June. The church welcomed over 500 volunteers from throughout the region and raised $22,000 for the non-profit organization, which provides survival packets for actively starving children in 70 countries. Volunteers arrived from schools, churches, the YMCA, and many other venues, including individuals from the community who wanted to lend a hand.

In just one day, the huge crowd of volunteers prepared 110,000 meal packets for starving children. It was the largest charity drive of its kind in Massachusetts.

“It’s been a life-altering experience,” said Fr. Selim. “We raised above and beyond what we aimed for. When we started organizing, we just said a prayer and got a team of workers together from the church.” Given the outpouring of support they received, the church plans to continue the program next year.

“We now have members who come from all over the world: Africa, Asia, Greece, Romania, Iraq, Egypt, and many other areas. We all get along well together and help one another.”

Fr. Selim commented that both he and his congregation are proud to be fully integrated into American society, and are happy to give back to the local community. But they are dismayed when they hear the recent visceral rhetoric against Syrian and other refugees, including politicians’ threats to send them back. Fr. Selim stressed that it was Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who founded St. George’s Cathedral over 100 years ago. Their descendants assimilated and contributed to American society, and continue to help current immigrants and refugees do the same.

Their community is especially disturbed by the recent calls to indiscriminately segregate whole groups of refugees. Fr. Selim summarized it well: “We are saddened when we hear about isolating entire refugee groups. Here, we have many people from Lebanon and Syria who have been committing their time and money for years to local people in need whom they don’t even know.”

Part of the crowd of over 500 volunteers at the Save the Starving Children Drive. (Courtesy of St. George's Church)

Part of the crowd of over 500 volunteers at the Feed My Starving Children Drive. (Courtesy of St. George’s Church)

Fr. Selim emphasized that their church community is a positive example of successfully settled immigrants. “We now have members who come from all over the world: Africa, Asia, Greece, Romania, Iraq, Egypt, and many other areas. We all get along well together and help one another.”

Contact Mary McCleary at [email protected]

 

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