Jordyn Haroldsen, contributing writer

In today’s busy world, there are many things that need to be changed. Most of the time, however, it seems easier to be an observer, to comment on the sad state of things then continue on with life. Luckily for the community of Rexburg, Emmilie and Eric Whitlock decided to stop being observers and start making a difference, at home and across the world.

Emmilie, like so many others, had seen photos and videos of the refugee crisis in Europe. It made her sad, but she didn’t know how to help. However, last April she attended a live broadcast from several religious leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the discussed topics was the refugee crisis. She felt moved to do something and met with friends to make blankets to send to the refugees.

While researching where to send the blankets, Emmilie found that the closest refugee center was in Twin Falls, set up through the College of Southern Idaho. There were also organizations in Boise and the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake. People in these areas can open their home to refugees and be a friend and mentor to them. This wasn’t something people in this area could do because Rexburg doesn’t have a refugee settlement program, but Emmilie wanted to do more.

She talked with Eric, her husband, about how they couldn’t be the only two people in Rexburg who wanted to help. Eric asked, “Why don’t we do something?” That was the beginning of Rexburg for Refugees. While there isn’t a refugee center in the immediate area, the centers closest to Rexburg are in need of any kind of donations. So Emmilie and Eric began a partnership with refugee centers and nonprofit organizations in Boise, Twin Falls and Salt Lake. These centers would communicate their needs to Rexburg for Refugees, who then collected what donations they could.

What began as a small side project flourished and grew into a very busy operation. “The response was huge,” Emmilie said. “This community is full of ralliers. They band together and get the job done.” The Standard Journal in Rexburg is now the warehouse where people can drop off donations. Rexburg for Refugees then provides the storage and transportation to get the donated items to the different centers. “There’s a stigma about refugees,” Emmilie said. In reality, “…they are just ordinary people like us that have come from extraordinarily difficult circumstances and they need our help.” She hopes that people can gain a new perspective about refugees by volunteering their time or donations. The International Rescue Committee is a “great resource” for people who want to learn more about the refugee crisis and the people who have been displaced.

The refugee crisis may seem a world away from Southeast Idaho, but this is an issue that shouldn’t be ignored, and it doesn’t take a lot to make a difference. Emmilie said, “Start with your sphere of influence — your school, office or church. It doesn’t have to be big. You can go to the dollar store and buy hygiene items to donate.”

More information about Rexburg for Refugees is available on their Facebook page and their website

Rexburg for Refugees