Nicole Wallace is a military spouse whose husband has been deployed to Afghanistan. She was grateful for the assistance her husband and his comrades received from the Afghans helping them during the 20-year war, which ended last month in a massive humanitarian crisis after the Taliban regained control of the country.
So, when Afghan evacuees began arriving at Ft. McCoy, Wallace, the adult services librarian at the Sparta Library, reached out as a citizen to personnel at the military installation to see what could be done to help them.
“I feel really grateful to our Afghan guests and want to make them feel welcome,” she said.
Wallace points out that there are likely more Afghan guests at Ft. McCoy than there are people in Sparta and their needs, especially for clothing, are great.
She was directed to Catholic Charities, The Red Cross and Team Rubicon, organizations taking donations to help the Afghan refugees, most of whom arrived in the U.S. with only the clothes on their backs.
Team Rubicon, a veterans organization devoted to helping people prepare, respond and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises, provided her with a list of needs and she and the library staff decided to focus on the children.
Earlier this week the library posted on Facebook that it was accepting diapers, wipes and new clothing for babies, toddlers and young children. It stressed only what Team Rubicon had asked for.
That Facebook post got over 11,000 hits. According to Library Director Michelle Tryggestad, what followed the next day was a tremendous outpouring of support from the public.
Library staff had put out two bins, one at the ground floor entrance and another near the circulation desk, and both were filled within a day.
For Tryggestad, the Afghan evacuee’s plight really hit home for her when she saw a photo of 10 of them arriving at Volk Field. She said of the 10 people in the picture, one had a backpack and one had a tote purse.
“That was it. That really resonated with me, that there but for the grace of God go us,” she said. “We just really felt for the kids and wanted to know what we could do and not hinder things.”
Those wishing to help out can drop off donations at the library, 124 West Main Street in Sparta Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Donations being accepted are new items for infants, toddlers and children, including pants, long-sleeved shirts, jackets, shoes, underwear and socks. Diapers (all sizes) and baby wipes are also in need.
Donations also can be dropped off daily at the Sparta Armory, 602 E. Division St. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is accepting new clothing and gently used clothing that has been freshly washed. For a list of other items needed email firstname.lastname@example.org.