How to Help Afghan Refugees in Iowa with Donations, Volunteering


After the Des Moines Register published information about the living conditions of resettled Afghans in Iowa, the community rallied to support the resettlement agencies and organizations that worked hard to meet the needs. But the agencies remain overwhelmed.

Here are more details on how you can help:


Where to Donate Money to Help Afghan Refugees in Iowa

Monetary donations help secure housing, food, furniture and household items. These organizations are asking for these donations:

Where to Donate Household Supplies and Clothing for Refugees in Iowa

The Central Iowa Refugee Alliance coordinates a centralized donation facility to help local efforts to collect furniture and donate household items for newly arrived families. The alliance is also looking for volunteers to help load/unload furniture. You can register here.

Items must be clean and in good used condition. RACI can currently only accept the following items:

  • canapes;
  • dining table and chair sets;
  • coffee table;
  • pot and pan sets;
  • Large mixing bowl sets;
  • chopping boards;
  • Pack’ Plays or similar cribs;
  • sets of sheets and comforters for single and queen size beds, in particular for twin beds;
  • Dinnerware sets, glassware sets and silverware sets.

Donations are accepted every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at 515 16th Street in Des Moines, on the east side of the building. Parking is accessible from 15th Street. Questions can be directed to [email protected]

USCRI also accepts new or gently used household items. They can be dropped off at 1200 University Avenue, Suite 205, in Des Moines.

Catholic Charities and Des Moines Refugee Support have Amazon wishlists for necessities.

On May 14, Des Moines Refugee Support is holding a fundraiser at Debra Heights Church in Des Moines, 4025 Lower Beaver, for donations. They ask for the following:

  • Spring and summer clothes such as light jackets, hoodies and long pants;
  • All baby items, such as strollers, bouncy chairs, car seats, cribs, unopened formula, diapers, and wipes;
  • Kitchen items such as dishes, silverware and small appliances such as toasters and coffee makers;
  • Bedding and towels;
  • Toys and games such as children’s books, dolls, Barbies, stuffed animals;
  • All children’s sports equipment such as cleats, shin guards, baseball gloves, soccer balls, bicycles, helmets, trikes and scooters.

The Urbandale Community Action Network is also accepting donations of the following items:

  • detergent pods;
  • Quarters for the hotel laundry;
  • New socks and underwear in all sizes;
  • tennis shoes of all sizes;
  • personal care items;
  • Feminine hygiene items.

These items can be donated at 3600 75th St in Urbandale, on the lower level of Aldersgate Church, from 8:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.

the The Johnston Lions Club is also holding a fundraiser on April 16. Here are the new or lightly used items they are looking for:

  • pots and pans;
  • Cooking tools;
  • mixing bowls;
  • kitchen and bath towels;
  • potholders;
  • chopping boards;
  • can openers;
  • waste paper baskets;
  • twin or full size comforters;
  • mops and mop buckets;
  • brooms and dustpans;
  • shower curtains and rings;
  • clothes hangers;
  • laundry baskets;
  • Quarter rolls for laundry.

Collection will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 16 at 6501 Merle Hay Road in Johnston.

Where to donate food to help Afghan refugees

The money helps the most, said Sarah Trone Garriott of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, which provides a food bank and other services to families in need.

“Most refugee programs use cash donations to purchase culturally appropriate food or may provide shopping lists for volunteers. Contact individual programs to see what would help the most,” Trone Garriott said.

Cash donations to DMARC can be made online. DMARC is also currently accepting donations of basmati rice, which is more expensive and in greater demand, Trone Garriot said.

Contact Nisha Kishor to volunteer with DMARC or schedule a food drive at [email protected] or 515-277-6969.

Donations of rice, money, or toiletries—including laundry detergent, dish soap, toilet paper, and diapers—can be dropped off at 100 Army Post Road in Des Moines at the entrance to warehouse on the west side of the building Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Resettlement agencies cannot accept food donations, so they partner with DMARC to provide food to families and ask for cash donations or gift cards to grocery stores like Hilal Groceries.

Halal and culturally appropriate food can be purchased at the Afghan Halal Supermarket in West Des Moines, Aws Mediterranean Market in Windsor Heights, or Hilal Grocery in the Drake Neighborhood as well as other locations.

More food aid options are available through Catholic charities programs.

How to volunteer to help refugees

In a room at an extended-stay hotel in Urbandale, men who say they risked their lives helping US coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan say they feel abandoned once they arrive in Iowa.  Some have lived for up to four months in an extended-stay hotel in Urbandale on special temporary visas, unable to secure housing on the Des Moines metro or obtain legal assistance to help wives and children still at risk. Afghanistan that remain at risk under the Taliban regime.

Resettlement agencies are overwhelmed. They need the help of volunteers.

LSI needs volunteers to help set up accommodations, bus trainings, community orientations, and more. To get involved in volunteer opportunities with LSI, email [email protected] More information can be found on its website.

The USCRI also needs volunteers to help set up apartments, prepare refugees for employment, take clients to doctors or other appointments, and help them learn how to use the bus system. USCRI can be reached in Des Moines by calling 515-528-7525. To volunteer, email [email protected]

Volunteer with Catholic Charities by contacting Holly Ackermann at 515-237-5027 or [email protected]

Des Moines Refugee Support helps fill gaps in refugee resettlement services. To volunteer, email the organization at [email protected]

To volunteer with DMARC and help with their pantry, contact Nisha Kishor at [email protected] or 515-277-6969.

Volunteer with resettlement agencies and a grocery store for culturally appropriate food:

How to help with housing for refugees

Finding affordable housing has been a huge challenge for resettlement agencies, especially houses with three or more bedrooms for large families and on a regular DART bus route.

LSI is looking for leads on housing. If you have a lead, contact [email protected]

RACI is also looking for affordable housing. Many families arriving are large. If you know of suitable rentals that are currently available or will soon be available, let RACI know at [email protected]

Muqadas Ibrahimi, 14, a refugee from Afghanistan, listens to her mother speak in her room at an extended stay hotel Wednesday, March 30, 2022 in Urbandale.  Some refugees have lived for up to four months in an extended-stay hotel in Urbandale on special temporary visas, unable to secure housing on the Des Moines subway or obtain legal assistance to help other members of the family still in Afghanistan who remain at risk under Taliban rule.

Other Ways to Help Afghan Refugees in Iowa

“If you meet someone new to the community from Afghanistan or any other country and have questions about how you can be of assistance, please contact their resettlement agency to see how you can best help. “, said Nick Wuertz of LSI.

Wuertz also encouraged Airbnb owners and hosts to get to know their Afghan tenants and show them around the city.

Agencies like LSI say there are also inappropriate ways to help, such as:

  • Simply throwing things at people;
  • Donations filled with bed bugs;
  • Helping without offering dignity and respect;
  • Take and post unwanted photos;
  • Not taking the time to understand the resettlement process;
  • Failing to approach resettlement agencies and other helpers with cooperation and respect.

Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @andreamsahourior by phone 515-284-8247.


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