Concord, California – Concord’s tight-knit Afghan community is eager to help the refugees that arrived earlier this month in Contra Costa County with nothing more than clothes in their backpacks.
Sedique Popal, president and imam of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Concord, is leading a huge effort to help 65 families who are staying at a Pleasant Hill hotel — with another 25 families coming this week.
And they are doing it with the full support of Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. He met with the group at the center on Treat Boulevard on Aug. 31 and talked with the Pioneer in a phone interview last week.
“We have a moral obligation to support the refugees,” De Saulnier said, while acknowledging the challenges facing those settling in the East Bay.
“We have one of the largest Afghan communities,” De Saulnier told the Pioneer. “But housing costs here can be an obstacle.”
Many coming here don’t have refugee or other legal status – a barrier his office is working to overcome.
“We can help this process by coordinating the various agencies and the non-profits,” DeSaulnier noted.
It’s the non-profits that will step up to find housing for the refugees, Popal said. “If there isn’t enough housing, the media will come forward.”
Popal has organized more than 200 volunteers to put together care packages for the refugees – from infants to the elderly. Donations from the community are coming in, and volunteers expect to fill a donated 40-foot shipping container parked next to the center. One end is already stacked with boxes of little boys’ khakis.
Popal was on his way to greet the dozens of people staying in temporary quarters in Pleasant Hill, taking basic supplies like toothbrushes, socks and children’s clothing. His wife will accompany him to help with the women and children who do not speak English.
“They left the country like you saw – clinging to a plane,” he said. “We share the same language, religion, same culture, so we can comfort them.”
Popal, a linguistics professor at the University of San Francisco, identifies closely with the refugees. He was one of the five million who fled Afghanistan in 1980 during the Soviet invasion. He has two nieces still in the country who have been unable to leave.
For Popal, the community response has been gratifying.
“People are opening their homes and offering apartments. Whoever comes to our area, we do everything possible to take care of them,” he said.
“They need a group. They need a community,” he added. “We are the community.”
They still need more supplies, especially children’s clothing, school supplies and household items except furniture. To comply with local health regulations, everything must arrive new.
Donation registries are set up with Amazon, Target and other retailers at noorislamicandculturalcommunitycenter.com. Cash donations are also accepted. Or drop off new items at 4035 Treat Blvd., Concord.