Sat 9/15 @ 6-11PM
While headlines may come and go, the global refugee crisis continues to be this generation’s biggest tragedy. Sure, on occasion we’ll hear about refugees coming to Northeast Ohio, but any limited news coverage belies the ongoing local humanitarian effort aiding refugee families moving from hardship to home.
For nearly a decade, Cleveland-based nonprofit the Refugee Response has been serving refugees through its Ohio City Farm and REAP program, which sells organically farmed fresh produce to some of Cleveland’s best restaurants.
In an effort to raise money as well as awareness of its program, the Refugee Response’s annual Reap the Benefit affair titled “Feed the Land” takes place Sat 9/15 @ 6-11pm at the Ohio City Farm. Attendees will be served dinner from more than 20 different local restaurants.
CoolCleveland talked to the Refugee Response executive director Patrick Kearns about the fundraiser and the nonprofit organization’s efforts.
CoolCleveland: Tell us about the Refugee Response.
Patrick Kearns: We provide educational and employment programming and support to newly arriving refugees in the greater Cleveland area. Currently we operate four programs that provide education services to children K-12, women, fellowship students and teenagers. We also run the Ohio City Farm as a for-profit enterprise providing employment for refugees in the area. Every year we work with about 120 individuals. We do provide services for two years to all of the people enrolled in our programming.
CC: What kind of impact is the Refugee Response having in Northeast Ohio?
PK: We are filling a gap where services are not currently being provided to this group in order for them to successfully acclimate to their new lives in Cleveland. As you can imagine, people are coming in without a great amount of formal education or work experience and with a lot of language and cultural barriers. They’re also coming from intense trauma in conflict areas across the world. So the services we provide help families stabilize and then to thrive inside of the education and employment arenas in the area. The impact we’re having on the families is we can quite definitely show children are improving in their language and cultural acclimation. They’re having more and more success in the school system. We’re also creating full-time working positions for adults and for the community in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.
CC: What role does the Ohio City Farm play in your efforts?
PK: What we’re able to provide at the Ohio City Farm is a one-of-a-kind resource. It’s one of the largest urban farms in the country and it’s open to the public. Every year we produce about 30 tons of organic produce and distribute it throughout the community in a variety of different ways.
CC: The symbolism of not only programming the Reap the Benefit fundraiser around food but also the involvement of refugees at the Ohio City Farm seemingly speaks directly to the humanity issue that is at the core of the Refugee Response mission.
PK: That’s how we kind of link these things together. We cook on the farm as well to demonstrate that. It’s something we really like to showcase: how food is culture and how culture is constantly changing and evolving. And the movement of these refugee families into the greater Cleveland area adds to that kind of diversity and that growth of culture, and that transformation of culture, which is something we really strongly believe in
CC: Finally, is it safe to say most people aren’t aware of not only the efforts of the Refugee Response, but how the international refugee situation reaches into Northeast Ohio?
PK: I think most people don’t really know. It’s kind of news to them that we have people who are coming from Myanmar, Nepal, the Congo. People from all across the world who are redeveloping pockets of Cleveland that were kind of abandoned or that were foreclosed upon in the mid-2000s. It’s a real eye-opener especially when people come onto the farm and they see this beautiful place that’s hidden away and where this amazing diversity of farmers is really making it one of the most productive urban farms in the county. It’s an eye-opening experience. I think people come in with the perception of what a refugee is and often that perception is not really accurate. People conflate refugee and immigrant constantly, and it’s really not a similar thing. These are not people who in anyway chose to move here for economic gain, but rather they had to leave their home because their country was at war and they were being persecuted.