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Meet the group of local women decorating homes for arriving refugees

Group of volunteers furnish local homes for new refugees. (ABC7)
Group of volunteers furnish local homes for new refugees. (ABC7)
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Laura Osuri of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is a journalist turned stay-at-home mom. Hannah Koipillai of Silver Spring, Maryland, is recently retired from the World Bank. Both women now spend their days, and many nights, collecting furniture and other items to furnish homes for refugees settling in the D.C. area.

Both Osuri and Koipillai's garages resemble a Goodwill storage room. Shelves overflowing with cups, plates, shower towels, games and toys. Each item donated by charitable souls or purchased at extreme discount on websites like Craigslist or Nextdoor.

Osuri is a member of the National Community Church, which has services across D.C., Maryland and Virginia. In 2016, she first learned about a refugee mission program sponsored by the church. The idea initially peaked her interest. Now, a little more than a year later, it's become a proper obsession.

"It's very rewarding to see. We're walking into this empty apartment and we turn it into a home," Osuri said.

In 2017 alone, Osuri estimates she and her fellow volunteers furnished apartments for 50 refugee families. Many of those families hail from Afghanistan, though others have ties to El Salvador, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Ukraine. This year, Osuri plans to double the workload, averaging two homes per week.

Typically, each refugee receives a stipend of around $1,000 to offset the cost of relocation and rent. However, that money does not go very far. Osuri proudly underscores her church's work makes the global transition a bit easier.

“I used to work with homeless people, and these refugees are homeless as well. They don’t have a homeland, they’ve been forcibly kicked out," Osuri said. “We have the resources, we should be doing this.”

At an apartment complex in Riverdale, Maryland, Hannah Koipillai, a fellow volunteer, met with a refugee family from Afghanistan. The husband and wife have four children - between 6 months and 6 years old. They settled in their new home only two weeks ago and were fortunate enough to have their home furnished by the National Community Church.

Although no one in the family can speak English – Farsi is their native language – it's quite evident the family is immensely grateful for the dining room table, couch, beds, dressers, toys, and the list goes on and on.

"Love and kindness goes a long way," Koipillai said. “I had brought hangers that someone had donated, wooden hangers, and he was so grateful that they had something to hang their clothes on in the closet.”

The mission is somewhat full circle for Koipillai. During the 1960s, she legally immigrated from India to the United States so her father could obtain his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina. Koipillai recalls hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak for the first time, and consequently absorbing the importance of inclusion.

“It just brings me such happiness; I can’t even explain to you. They're just happy that someone takes the time and the initiative to create a warm feeling of home," Koipillai concluded with a bright smile upon her face.

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If you would like to donate furnishings or volunteer with the National Community Church's refugee care program, click here:

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