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Food & Hunger

This Thanksgiving, US Groups Are Welcoming Refugees With Open Arms — And Trays of Turkey

This Thanksgiving, community organizations across the US are welcoming refugees with trays of turkey and tubs of stuffing, helping the migrants to share in the annual feast and connect with their neighbors.

The meals — often sponsored by church groups, schools and nonprofit organizations — are a throwback to the harvest feast that brought together English Puritans who sought religious freedom in what is now Massachusetts and the indigenous people who supported them. That meal eventually inspired Thanksgiving.

While the specifics of the Thanksgiving tradition — like football games, giant turkeys, and cornucopias overflowing with decorative gourds — may take some getting used to, the atmosphere of acceptance and unity is a welcome experience for recent immigrants.

“Things like this foster collaboration and diversity,” said Jasmine Saini, a refugee who shared her first Thanksgiving meal at an event in Arlington, Virginia. “I’m thankful for people who have open minds.”

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In Arlington, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, and other conflict regions joined established residents for a potluck dinner co-hosted by the African Community Center and the Ethiopian Community Development Council, two local immigrant aid organizations. Attendees were encouraged to bring dishes customary to their home countries to share as well.

“The idea is to introduce the newcomers — to sit together, break bread, and talk about what we have in common,” Sarah Zullo, the managing director of Arlington’s African Community Center, told PBS.

“It’s not easy to resettle in a new place when you don’t know the language and you know nothing about the culture,” Zullo continued.

From coast to coast, immigrants tasted cranberry sauce and received a crash course on Thanksgiving’s history this past week.  

In Denver, Colorado hundreds of refugees attended their first Thanksgiving dinner at a Greek Orthodox Cathedral and in Lowell, Massachusetts, an organization that helps immigrants resettle held a Thanksgiving meal at the home of a Somalian family that arrived in the United States earlier this year.

An elementary school in Rochester, New York invited hundreds of students and their families to share a Thanksgiving meal — the first for several young immigrants, including one student from Syria and another from Honduras.

Read More: Refugees From Notorious Australian Detention Centers Begin Arriving in US

To Hawo Ahmed, one of the Somali refugees adjusting to life in Lowell, the experience represented community and inclusion.

"They say that sharing is caring so we feel like we are all family, there's no difference [between us] at all,” Ahmed told WBUR.

Global Citizen campaigns on ensuring equal rights for all people, including refugees. You can take action here.

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For many Americans, including former president Barack Obama, Thanksgiving remains an opportunity to celebrate and honor the migrants who have sought security and inclusion in the US ever since “a small band of pilgrims came to this continent” in 1620.

“Nearly 400 years later,” Obama said in 2015 Thanksgiving speech “We remember their part in the American story — and we honor the men and women who helped them in their time of need.”