FORT MYERS, Fla. — As Cubans and Haitians make their way into Florida, non-profits like Lutheran Services Florida try to make the holidays extra special for refugees new to the area.
There is a generation of Cubans who don’t celebrate Christmas because the holiday was outlawed by the Castro regime from 1969-1997 .
Haitians, on the other hand, have always celebrated Christmas. Unfortunately, since the 2010 earthquake, many Haitians are still living in refugee camps, which means a traditional Christmas celebration is out of reach or unaffordable.
“Last year a woman came to the office, she worked three jobs,” Jacquie Willams shared.
Jacquie, who works at Lutheran Services, asked the woman, a refugee from Haiti, if she was getting ready for Christmas. For weeks the woman brushed Jacquie off. Jacquie later learned the woman was trying to save money to send back home to her family.
“I thought if there’s one there have to be others,” Jacquie recalled.
So, why don't refugees ask for help when they come to the States? “They are prideful, they are new to the country, and they are scared,” Jacquie explained.
For the holidays, Jacquie and her team are hosting a toy drive to help refugees celebrate their first Christmas in Southwest Florida. “We are asking for bikes for the older children because 10- to 13-year-olds don’t want little toys that are usually for the younger children,” Jacquie explained.
Lutheran Services is also asking local barbershops to help with haircuts.
For more information on how you can help, contact Lutheran Services at 239.217.4453.