Maine Voices: Mainers should welcome immigrants home – with furniture

Leaving countries in turmoil, Afghan, African and Haitian immigrants are landing in Maine. There are hundreds of refugees from across the globe living in local motels. They have left their homes and families seeking peace, safety and an opportunity to build a new life.

Prince Bekoka watches out the window in Portland in 2016 as his family receives furniture from Furniture Friends, an organization that provides donated furniture to families in need. “In just 10 years, Furniture Friends has grown from serving 32 households to more than 700 this year alone,” Executive Director Jenn McAdoo writes. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, File

Jenn McAdoo serves as executive director of Furniture Friends in Westbrook.

Even though the United States is a nation of immigrants, it is incredibly difficult to be an immigrant today. People who left war and chaos behind struggle daily to find basic necessities – those we all need to survive. They struggle to find food and permanent homes for their families. They struggle to begin new careers, understand the culture and assimilate to the American way of life. They struggle, hoping for a brighter future.

America needs to continue its tradition of being a refuge for all, especially for those who have suffered persecution overseas. When war leaves behind its victims (living and dead), states like Maine must continue to shine as peaceful places that bring hope for the future and a better way of life. Yes, it’s true – Maine is a predominantly white state, and not always accustomed to people with different skin tones, religious persuasions or heavily accented speech. But we must stop debating whether someone “from away” can ever be a Mainer (really, all of us are “from away,” unless we are Native American). We must build on our strong sense of community calling us to help our neighbors – regardless of whether they are from near or far. When we look beyond our differences and welcome immigrants as our neighbors, we are richer for it.

I see some of those struggles, and the generosity that exists in our communities, firsthand. As executive director of Furniture Friends, a local nonprofit that provides donated furniture to those in need, I meet people from all walks of life – U.S.-born citizens, immigrants and others who have fallen on tough times.

Safe, stable and affordable housing is critical for anyone trying to overcome challenges in their lives. But there is a true lack of affordable housing in southern Maine. As housing prices continue to soar, it forces those with meager incomes to stretch what they earn to cover their rent. There is no doubt that when all of a person’s income goes to paying rent, there is little (if any) left to cover the cost of necessary furnishings.

As a result, too many people are living in bare apartments in Portland – yes, right here in Portland. What is a home without furniture? Imagine it if you can. Basic furniture provides children with a good night’s rest. It provides comfort and security to people suffering from physical, intellectual or other chronic illnesses. It can even restore dignity and respect to people who have fled their countries with little more than the clothes on their backs. This isn’t about affording expensive chairs or couches from West Elm; it’s about owning furniture at all.

In just 10 years, Furniture Friends has grown from serving 32 households to more than 700 this year alone. Every day, we receive donations of gently used furniture from countless Mainers eager to help those who would otherwise go without. If you have furniture to spare, consider donating it. You too can be part of a network of care that helps others. The act of donating furniture is simple, but the impact is profound.

With hundreds of immigrants now calling Maine home, it has never been more important to welcome our newest neighbors. Working together, we can create homes that help rebuild lives.

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Maine Voices: Mainers should welcome immigrants home – with furniture

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