ALLOUEZ, WI (WFRV) – At one of the darkest times in their lives, refugees from Afghanistan found the lighted path to their journey at Resurrection Parish in Allouez.
Longtime Catholic Charities volunteers Ellen and Peter Tilleman were there from Fort McCoy to the Green Bay area.
“You don’t realize how many things you need in order to survive here,” recalled Pete.
“Whatever they needed,” added Ellen. “Whatever they needed to get ready for school. Stuff like that. It’s one thing after another.”
The Tillemans and their fellow Catholic Charities volunteers already helped secure housing and food, but it was when doing follow-up visits they realized the families were doing their laundry in the tub.
“They had a little balcony and they were hanging their clothes out there,” explained Ellen. “But they would have to bring them in at night. Because our December wasn’t really warm. They would bring it (the laundry) in and put it on all the furniture in the house.”
Their son and daughter-in-law helped them find a used washer and dryer. They cleaned it up and installed them.
Pete says it made a huge difference in terms of quality of life for the family.
So when they told the story to their Mission Outreach Director at Resurrection Parish, he suggested sharing the story with others in the church bulletin.
“A woman from our parish said I read about it in the bulletin,” Tony Pichler told Local 5 News. “It really touched her heart. She said I want to do something about this.”
She told Pichler she had $20,000 to give them.
Another woman in the parish, a stay-at-home mom, then contacted her husband’s company and offered the machines at cost.
In the end, they were able to buy 20 new washers and dryers.
“Some might say what are the chances,” said Pichler. “The church says that’s how the spirit moves.”
This cycle of giving recently garnered top honors for the group at the annual WPS volunteer awards.
Karmen Lemke, Executive Director of Catholic Charities says the invaluable insight of volunteers helped them make leaps and bounds just six months in the resettlement.
“I’m proud to say our kiddos are in school,” Lemke declared. “Many of the dads and working. So, it’s been challenging and rewarding and we couldn’t do it without our volunteers.”
Pete carries around with him handwritten thank you notes from the kids in the families.
Ellen talks about how rewarding the hugs of appreciation have become.
“It’s always something new, every day,” admitted Ellen. “But, it’s beautiful because you get these little hugs from a little girl at the end of the day and she just hugs you and holds on!”
The Tillemans and other volunteers with Catholic Charities will be sharing their stories as the major fundraiser of the year for the charity takes place in person for the first time since the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The Inspired to Act Gala is Thursday, May 19th at the Swan Club in De Pere.
The N.E.W. Piano Guys are the featured act.
They request you RSVP by May 10th.
Bishop David Ricken, Catholic Charities Executive Director Karmen Lemke, and Local 5 News Anchor Michele McCormack will serve as emcees.