A power outage in the West End didn’t stop the Thanksgiving festivities at Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Thanksgiving Welcoming Celebration for new refugees.
The power went out just before the event was set to begin, but all the food had been cooked, said Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, CEO of Catholic Charities. The only issue was that there was no public address system, so speakers had to project their voices, but no one seemed to mind.
The event is in its fourth year, and it brings together volunteers, newly resettled refugees and community members for a traditional American meal at the Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services building at 2234 W. Market St.
“It’s really just an opportunity for our newcomers to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with all our wonderful volunteers and community members,” said Colin Triplett, resettlement director.
Many of the recent refugees in Louisville have come from Congo and nearby African countries.
“If you look around and see kids 18 or younger, they will probably not say they’re from the Congo. They’ll say they grew up in Uganda because they can’t go back to Congo because of the civil war, and most of them say they’re not welcome there,” Triplett said. “So they wait, and go through this very long screening process, and then they come here.”
Catholic Charities has been resettling refugees in Louisville since the 1970s, and last year, Louisville was the largest refugee resettlement site in the United States for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said DeJaco Crutcher.
“We’ve found that Louisville is very welcoming community, and that’s why we’ve been so successful and that’s why Kentucky Refugee Ministries started 15 years after we did because this is such a welcoming community,” she said. “We’re really in a good, sweet spot in terms of size of the community.”
Rasha Alrawi agreed. Alrawi, who is from Iraq, has been in Louisville for a year and a half and was part of the resettlement program. Now, she volunteers to help others and to speak to local schools about her experience.
She said she was asked where she and her family wanted to settle in the U.S., but they had no idea because “America is so huge.” But, Alrawi said, she had a friend here and asked what Louisville was like.
“He told us the city is quiet, and the people are good,” she said. “And then when I came here, day after day, when I’m talking to people from place to place, from city to city, from state to state, someone working here told me, ‘You are lucky because you are here.’ And she is right. I see people that are very, very friendly and welcoming. They smile even if they don’t know me. That’s for me, very good.”
Resettling is difficult, but events like the Thanksgiving meal help newcomers, Alrawi said. “This makes me feel good. We can relax. Also my neighborhood (off Brownsboro Road), my neighbors, everyone is welcoming. I am very thankful.”
Jane Cadawi of Congo celebrated her first Thanksgiving at the event. She first moved to Utah from Africa but then moved to Louisville.
“I’m just excited to enjoy Thanksgiving with my friends and my teachers,” she said.
Mayor Greg Fischer welcomed the group to Louisville.
“I love seeing all these faces from all around the world,” Fischer said. “You guys are what make our city strong. So I would ask that you enjoy this great holiday, and I have one other request: Please ask your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers to move to our city as well.”
Grace Wagner, a senior at Presentation Academy, served lemonade, tea and water to guests at the event. She said she began volunteering with Catholic Charities as a fourth-grader at St. Francis of Assisi School and makes it a point to come back every year.
“I just love the community about it, and I like how welcoming they are to all religions and all people,” Wagner said. “I think it’s a really cool thing to do at Thanksgiving. It’s just a very American thing, and I love that it’s just used as a way to feed people and make them feel very welcome and at home.”
Many students from St. Francis of Assisi volunteered at the event. They played games with the younger children, helped with crafts and assisted them with filling their plates.
“The fun part about it is that everyone here is very welcoming,” said Abigail Livingston, an eighth-grader from St. Francis. “Even if you don’t know them that well, they become your friend quickly. They’re very welcoming. I’ve met a bunch of people from Burundi, and they try to teach you their language. It’s fun.”
In the cultural orientation classes at Catholic Charities, English language teachers have taught students about the traditions and cultures of Thanksgiving in the United States, Triplett said.
“We gave them the cranberry-in-a-can speech,” he said with a laugh. “So everybody should be kind of familiar with what we’re doing, and also we’ve got some crafts for children and those things that we look back on as kind of fond memories, like making a little turkey out of your hand and stuff like that. We’re really trying to throw it together to kind of get them familiar with it.”