Tomah Pastor Says Refugees’ Needs Change by the Hour

Rev. Bryan Simon, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Tomah

Winter coats. Shoes. Prayer mats. Soccer balls.

Those are just a few of the items donated to Afghan refugees currently awaiting resettlement at Fort McCoy, said the Rev. Bryan Simon, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Tomah, who has collaborated with other clergy to help shape a community-wide effort to make sure the refugees have what they need.

The influx of nearly 13,000 refugees, along with thousands of support staff, has essentially created a new city larger than Tomah, which has about 9,400 residents. Eventually, the refugees will be resettled in communities across the country. For now, people like Simon are trying to meet the Afghans’ basic needs.

The refugees arrived with little more than the clothes on their back.

“The hard part is figuring out what the need is,” Simon said. “It changes day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute.” One constant, however is the need for winter coats and shoes that can stand up to Wisconsin weather.

“People are coming into a climate that is vastly different from what they’re used to,” Simon said.

Recreational items for children and adults are welcome, too – “all sorts of things we take for granted,” he said. “The kids love soccer, so we sent out like a hundred soccer balls.”

The community also has tried to accommodate the Muslim refugees’ spiritual needs.

“They’ll take yoga mats – anything they can kneel on to pray,” Simon said. “For us, it’s providing what they need in love for their spiritual well-being.”

Donations are being organized by Team Rubicon, a national nonprofit.

Neil Nelson, associate pastor for adult ministries at Bible Evangelical Free church in Tomah and one of those involved in addressing the refugees’ needs, said they also need advocacy. He pointed especially to those Afghans who have served as U.S. soldiers.

“They have family members still there (in Afghanistan) in hiding and at risk,” Nelson said. He encouraged people of faith to write their congressional representatives to demand that the U.S. intensify efforts to help Afghan allies leave the country.

Financial contributions to organizations aiding the refugees are vital to support what is likely to be a long slog.

Simon said parishioners who work at Fort McCoy expect the refugees to be there until at least the spring. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.


For more information on ways to help, or to make a financial contribution visit:

Team Rubicon:

Goodwill Industries International:

American Red Cross:

International Rescue Committee:

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse:

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