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A multifaith crowd packs soap and toothpaste for Syrian refugees

Volunteers assemble hygiene care packages for Syrian refugees at New York City's 69th Regiment Armory on June 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of Brian McDonnell (Heart to Heart International)

(RNS) The call went out for 600 volunteers to make care packages for Syrian refugees. Nearly 1,000 Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus answered it.

They formed assembly lines Sunday (June 26) at the historic 69th Regiment Armory in lower Manhattan and stuffed toothpaste, nail clippers, soap, hand towels, condoms, washable menstrual pads and other personal hygiene products into plastic bags to send to camps in Turkey for refugees of Syria’s civil war.

“Syrians have been refugees for five years, and other countries are receiving them,” said Sophie Sun of New Jersey, who folded underwear with friends from the nonprofit Buddhist Global Relief, where she is a board member.

Helping out Sunday was the least she could do for the displaced Syrians, said Sun, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan. “It’s about time Americans took action.”

The event, organized by the relief organization Heart to Heart International along with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, was designed to fill a void — relief groups in Turkey often can provide little beyond food and shelter. 

The hygiene products, donated by the New York company Henry Schein, prevent health problems but also speak to the refugees’ dignity, volunteers said.

In all, they assembled 7,500 hygiene kits.

Left to right, Simran Jeet Singh of The Sikh Coalition, Sophie Sun of Buddhist Global Relief, Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg of the Mutlifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees and Sarah Sayeed a senior advisor in the community affairs unit of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, pose for a photo during an event to send personal hygiene care packages to Syrian refugees in Turkey. Photo courtesy of

Left to right, Simran Jeet Singh of the Sikh Coalition, Sophie Sun of Buddhist Global Relief, Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees and Sarah Sayeed, a senior adviser in the community affairs unit of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, pose for a photo during an event to send personal hygiene care packages to Syrian refugees in Turkey. Photo courtesy of Brian McDonnell

Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg of the Multifaith Alliance said he is not surprised that organizers had more people who wanted to help than they needed at the armory.

“There has been a great desire by many people, faith-based and not, who have been frustrated watching the Syrian refugee crisis get worse every year,” said Greenberg.

“This event gave them the opportunity to do something tangible, and so important –providing basic hygiene kits to people who don’t even have a toothbrush.”

The groups that convened Sunday are talking about doing more charitable work together, he added.

The Sikh Coalition brought 70 volunteers to the event and saw it as an opportunity to help out a group of people who, like Sikhs, have suffered discrimination.

“Helping Syrian refugees really strikes a chord with us,” said Simran Jeet Singh, a religion fellow at the coalition. “We readily identify with those who are treated less than human.”

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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