For most teenagers, playing hooky can be chalked up to simply not wanting to go to school.
That wasn’t the case Wednesday for Jared Freedland, a sophomore at West Valley High School and a longtime Boy Scout, who helped his father unload over 300 blankets and pillows at World Relief Spokane’s office.
The 15-year-old spent months gathering donations from church members, going door to door and even creating a dozen blankets or so out of fleece he bought at a fabric store – all part of his Eagle Scout project.
“I really didn’t know much about refugees before this,” Freedland admitted. “I understood that they are coming from countries and they seriously have nothing.”
He added, “I’m just happy to help them by providing blankets so they can stay warm.”
Soon, the large pile of blankets will be distributed to refugees staying in apartments, hotels or with host families in the Spokane area. The leftovers will go into storage in a warehouse south of Gonzaga Preparatory School, where World Relief workers say the excess should last them until next year.
“I’m so excited because I was looking for blankets just last week,” said Nancy Goodwin, who works in World Relief’s resettlement department.
One of the families sure to receive a few is that of Fazina Quraishi. She, her husband and her three children moved from Afghanistan in November to escape the Taliban and find a new life in the United States.
Quraishi said she’s grateful for everything World Relief has given her, and said her 3-year-old could certainly use the extra padding.
“For me it’s OK because we came from another country,” she said. “But it’s hard for new life, for our child.”
Freedland knew he wanted to go big for his Eagle Scout project, so he started asking around at his church and at home for ideas, and that’s when he learned of refugees in the area.
He reached out to World Relief Spokane – which shepherded just under 600 refugees into the city and surrounding area last year, most of them from Iraq – asking how he could help. With winter on the horizon, the obvious and easiest choice was more blankets.
“Every refugee that comes to Spokane, we provide everything they need for their apartment,” said Johnna Nickoloff, World Relief Spokane’s development director. “But the requirement is very minimal, and it could be very vague – maybe they just have sheets and a thin blanket.”
Nickoloff said when most people hear about refugees, they think of the Syrian refugee crisis, but she said Spokane has been mostly quiet for Syrian refugees. Since the application process is long and arduous, a large majority are still coming from places like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ukraine.
World Relief Spokane expects 750 refugees next year – 150 more than last year – and a larger portion from Syria.
“The president sets the numbers, so that may change,” Nickoloff said. “But that’s a lot of blankets.”
When it came time to deliver the haul, Freedland hopped up onto the truck bed and began dealing out armfuls of blankets to World Relief employees and interns. Forming a blanket brigade, they methodically unloaded the U-Haul truck and stacked them in the office’s tiny storeroom/office in cold but sunny weather.
“We can just stack it up the ceiling,” said Resource Coordinator Brian Olson. “I guess we could remove a few panels and …”
Freedland couldn’t help but grimace when standing next to the ceiling-high pile and telling the workers how many he’d donated – 335. He also couldn’t help but be reminded of the “weeks upon weeks” the family spent washing and drying them all. They took shifts loading, unloading and folding.
“It’s been at least 100 to 125 loads of laundry,” said Scott Freedland, Jared’s father. “For sure we went through a whole big bottle of detergent.”
Said Jared, “It really was a crazy success.”