Marilyn Koyanagi (top) and Shirley Zimmerman with some of the donations that have been dropped off to Koyanagi's South Surrey home since Nov. 24

Donation drive for refugees hits home for South Surrey family

Response to an appeal for donations for Syrian refugees is reinforcing Marilyn Koyanagi's belief that acceptance 'makes for a better world'.

A South Surrey effort to rally supplies for Syrian refugees who are coming to the city has received a response beyond anything imagined, organizers say.

“It just kind of exploded,” said Marilyn Koyanagi, of an appeal for winter coats issued last week through social media and a flyer. “We have a living room full of bags… clothing, household items, lots and lots of bedding, lots of winter clothing, coats for all ages, baby things.”

Koyanagi said taking on a charitable project at Christmas is an annual tradition for her and her husband, Shiro.

Thinking of the hundreds of Syrian refugees expected to arrive in Surrey by the end of February – the federal government has committed to settle 25,000 nationwide – Shiro suggested they focus on a coat drive, to help them keep warm.

Within days, the Koyanagis’ living room, dining room and home office were piled with bags and boxes full of all manner of items, and the offers to give more haven’t let up.

“It’s just been snowballing,” said friend Shirley Zimmerman, as she and the Koyanagis prepared to sort items for baby “kits” that will be distributed through the Mennonite Central Committee in bags handmade by the two women.

Each will be stuffed with two sleepers, two nightshirts, four diapers, four safety pins, a bar of soap, a receiving blanket, a cap and a pair of socks.

Koyanagi said the outpouring of support for the effort backs her assertion that reported opposition to helping the refugees is not reflecting the true picture. Many people want to help, she said.

“There was such negative press about the number of people that didn’t want the refugees coming here. The response we’ve had has been overwhelming, and it really shows there are a lot of people that want them here,” she said.

“This shows the majority of people are very caring and very giving.”

Koyanagi noted that if Canada had been less welcoming to refugees years ago, “we would not have a son.”

In 1980, the couple adopted a six-week-old boy whose parents were among the thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” who came to Canada in 1980.

Now 35, Mathew Koyanagi donated “quite a large chunk” of his wardrobe and other items to his parents’ drive.

He said by email that his views on the crisis are not limited to just Syria, “but to all refugees from around the globe.”

“Syria is the most current and media-heavy crisis, but we as Canadians must be an active part in helping these people, particularly with our previous government being so eager to turn them away,” he writes. “In a country where, according to the 2001 Stats Canada Census, only 32 per cent of people recognized themselves as Canadian and the remainder as being immigrants, it is unfathomable for us to close our borders to the outside world.”

Other charities supported by the Koyanagis throughout the year include Union Gospel Mission, Covenant House, the food bank and Oxfam. Mathew, who works in the Downtown Eastside as an executive sous chef, also helps Angel Food Runners, Ishtar House, Mission Possible and other organizations.

“It makes for a better world when people accept each other,” Marilyn said.

Items donated to their drive this year will go to MCC, who have offered to pick up the items.

While the Koyanagis are committed to collecting donations for as long as people donate, they are not the only ones who have been overwhelmed by the community’s response to the Syrians’ plight.

At the Middle Eastern Friendship Centre in North Surrey, little room is left in the 6,000-square-foot space – to the point organizers are no longer accepting clothing items, and are now appealing for help storing donations.

“We didn’t expect this amount,” Simon Masoud, whose family runs the centre, said Monday.

“Our back room is completely full. The middle room is filling up, which is a lot bigger. The front room is filling up to the point where you can barely open the door.”

Items still being accepted at the 13483 108 Ave. centre include non-perishable food, new toiletries, bedding and gift cards. Volunteers would also be appreciated, Masoud said. For information, call 604-288-5588.

To contribute to the Koyanagis’ effort, email weeruffians@yahoo.com or call 604-538-1273.

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