JustServe plays a growing role in welcoming refugees to Saint-Louis


Afghan refugee families reunite with JustServe volunteers and members of the St. Louis Missouri Stake in Frontenac, Missouri, in 2022. Photo courtesy of Rock Erekson, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

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By Mary Richards, Church News

January 2022 brought a first wave of approximately 600 Afghan refugees to the St. Louis, Missouri area. By the end of 2022, more families are being relocated to the county. And local volunteers with big hearts and a desire to serve help every step of the way.

When refugees arrive in the St. Louis area, they often stay in extended-stay hotels while the St. Louis International Institute — a federal resettlement agency — searches for rental accommodations. Sometimes it can take weeks, explained Rock Erekson, coordinator of St. Louis JustServe.

Erekson said volunteers from a local organization called Welcome Neighbor STL help take Afghan family members to grocery stores to buy food with gift cards donated by local agencies. As this was happening in the early months of 2022, Erekson contacted a woman he had known for many years named Letty Preston Goering and invited her to help him.

Goering created an organization called “Kindness Begins With Me” and began listing immigrant outreach service projects on JustServe.org, which is a website and app where community groups list their volunteer needs.


Letty Preston Goering waves a flag that reads “Kindness Begins With Me” with Afghan refugees in early 2022. Photo courtesy of Rock Erekson, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Meanwhile, at the St. Louis Missouri Stake February Stake Conference, the stake president invited all stake members to download the JustServe app and seek out opportunities to serve.

And Jeremiah J. Morgan, Area Seventy, invited stake Relief Society presidents to take greater ownership of JustServe within their stake, create a vision statement, and help people seek ways to serve.

Soon many volunteers were helping gather supplies, going for walks, giving English lessons and meeting many other needs in several places in the community.

“St. Louis is full of generous, generous people and many wonderful organizations that benefit tens of thousands of people,” Erekson said.


Letty Preston Goering (right), who started an organization called “Kindness Begins With Me,” with Afghan refugees and missionaries in early 2022. Photo courtesy of Rock Erekson, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Erekson began attending weekly partner updates for leaders of refugee-serving affiliate organizations around St. Louis. He shared what JustServe can do to help them in their efforts to serve. The organizations then registered on JustServe, creating a volunteer hub called “The Greater St. Louis Area Refugee Connect”.

“Along with all of this, many wonderful relationships have been established and developed within the community with our new Afghan friends,” Erekson said.

In May, the International Institute of Saint-Louis planned to organize its first Eid-al Fitr festival – a Muslim religious holiday – for Afghan refugees in the region. But the place fell apart. Erekson secured permission for the band to use the church’s Frontenac Chapel in western St. Louis County.

The Frontenac Building was where weekly English classes were held for 40 to 50 Afghan refugees, organized by Kindness Begins With Me. It was also near the hotels where many refugees were staying temporarily.

The festival took place on May 16, with a large crowd. Erekson said it was a wonderful and fun community event.


A large crowd attends the Eid-al Fitr festival being held at the Latter-day Saint Frontenac Chapel in Frontenac, Missouri on May 16, 2022. Photo courtesy of Rock Erekson, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

John Kaba Amini wrote on Facebook how grateful he was to the Church that hosted the event at their building. “They were welcoming of all faiths and by far the most accepting people I’ve come across,” he said.

The service continues as more families move in before the end of the year. For example, on October 30, young people and adults helped a new refugee family move from a city to a bigger, more comfortable home.

“The Sisters of Mercy of the South-Central Americas Community made this possible. Welcome Neighbor, Humankind and JustServe have all come together to help this family become self-sufficient,” Erekson said in a JustServe post about the move.

Erekson said he and many others have become friends with many Afghans as they serve them. He said the relationship is only getting stronger as Church members and caring people in the community rally around the refugees to help them.


JustServe volunteers help an Afghan family move into a new home in St. Louis County, Missouri on Oct. 30, 2022. Photo courtesy of Rock Erekson, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Copyright 2022 Deseret News Publishing Company.


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