Los Angeles

Mom’s Heart Fuels Refugee Family’s Soul: SoCal Mom Crowdsources Household Essentials for Refugees

"Is a family that just got here from Afghanistan going to have beds to sleep on tonight? We can solve that problem and that's what we do."

Miry Whitehill-Ben Atar saw the graphic images of murdered children in war-torn Syria for months; the families of refugees forced to leave their homes behind and find comfort - if you can call it that - in refugee camps around the world.

But it wasn't until last July that Miry met a Syrian family in person, in Los Angeles of all places, that a light clicked on inside her.

"It's so frustrating because we see this and it's like -- those are kids, the same as our kids," the Eagle Rock resident said. "But we can't do anything because they're there."

She was so moved by the way her youngest child connected with the youngest child of that family that she wanted to do something to help.

"The things we can't do anything about are laws and policy and the hearts and minds of politicians," she said. "But the things we can have power over is, is a family that just got here from Afghanistan going to have beds to sleep on tonight? We can solve that problem and that's what we do."

What started as a call-to-action on her local Eagle Rock Moms Facebook page, became what is now: MirysList.org - a crowd-sourcing non-profit, profiling refugee families from around the world that have come to Los Angeles. The site allows people to click on those profiles to buy essential household items that can be sent directly from the family's Amazon Wish Lists.

"I don't provide the service only for them," Whitehill-Ben Atar said. "The service is for people like me who need to do something."

Miry's List has more than a hundred families, with placements in Northern California, LA and San Diego to name a few. She says 70 percent of those families come from Syria, another 20 percent from Afghanistan, and the rest from Iran, Iraq, Egypt and even Somalia.

And while she's waiting to become an official 501-c3 non-profit with the federal government, she said 30 people volunteer full or part time to seek out families and set up their profiles. And many of those are previous "new arrivals" to the program.

Whitehill-Ben Atar said as a mother, she was most touched not by what these refugee mothers told her, but by what their eyes showed her.

"When I saw a baby that looked just like mine and a mom whose eyes were more tired than mine, it's a face that every single parent can relate to," she said.

One of the latest families Miry's List is helping is the Kashefi family from Afghanistan. Bashir Kashefi, his pregnant wife, and their 2-year-old daughter Hoya arrived in LA on March 6. Kashefi was an interpreter for the U.S. military for nearly a decade. But when the Marines' group mission ended, Kashefi became a target.

"Because my life was in danger," he said. "Everybody knows Afghanistan is not secure, especially with those who were working with coalition forces."

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul granted him and his family a visa to get out and come to the United States, but the first week stateside proved to be just as difficult as home.

"We did not know what to do," Kashefi said of those first few days. They were basically couch-surfing through word of mouth, stressed out in every sense of the word.

Then he met Miry, introduced by another Afghan immigrant.

"All these things is because of what? It's because of Miry," he said. He particularly thanks a woman named Jennifer in the Miry's List organization, and Melinda and David who became the host family for the Kashefis, until late this week when Bashir will move his family in a permanent apartment in Anaheim.

"I'm very thankful for everybody around Miry's List," Kashefi said. "Because nowadays my mind is relaxed."

For Whitehill-Ben Atar, a stay-at-home-mom with no experience in running a non-profit, the experience has been life-affirming.

"I wake up every morning to WhatsApp messages from our families with pictures of kids on bikes and babies in beds and mountains of Amazon boxes in front of their door with heart emoji, happy emoji, love emoji," she said. "That is the most direct, qualitative customer assessment that I can get."

Whitehill-Ben Atar said new families are connected with Miry's List every day and they are constantly updating the families need on its website. If you would like to donate or sponsor a family, you can do so at www.MirysList.org

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