George Mason University students streamed into a room in the campus’ community building in Fairfax, Virginia, one day last week to pack rice and beans. These meals, 40,000 of them, were bound for refugee families in the Middle East.
“Each box provides meals for a family of five for a whole month. We are able to pack 280 boxes to take over there,” said Brett Miller with George Mason’s Christian Campus Ministry. The interdenominational Christian organization Mason Cru organized Meals for Refugees in response to what has become a very large problem.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that one in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee. By the end of 2016, UNHCR said number of displaced people had risen to 65.6 million, 300,000 more than the year before and the largest number ever recorded, putting pressure on humanitarian organizations and governments for food and housing.
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Meals for Refugees was part of an annual campuswide humanitarian effort called Love Week. This year, Love Week was about helping refugees in partnership with the Global Aid Network (GAiN), which will distribute the meals.
“We gather as many students as we can,” Miller said. “We have a Jewish group partnering with us, Muslim groups.” The event has also drawn members of sororities and fraternities, as well other non-religious organizations.
With 35,000 students and four campuses, George Mason is Virginia’s biggest school and the state’s largest public research university.
Begun in 2010, Love Week takes on a different project each year. In earlier years, students have raised money to rescue women from sex trafficking, packed school supplies for a mentorship program in Botswana and provided seeds so displaced families in South Sudan could grow their own food.
In addition to packing meals, students also raised money for refugees through the sale of T-shirts that say “Love Refugees” on the front.
“That’s our major, major way of gaining funds for this cause. They are very popular,” Miller said.
Love Week has two purposes. One is to relieve suffering in the refugee camps. The other is give students a new perspective.
“Our hope is that students here would gain a heart for those who are poor, or displaced, marginalized in the world,” Miller said.
Student Carrie Johns began to participate in Love Week three years ago with a clean water project for Guatemala.
“I know that I’m very lucky because I have a home to go to,” she said. “I have three meals a day. But I also know that there are people in the world like refugees who don’t have that. And I hope that my efforts can bring them hope and brighten their day even when times are difficult.”