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Afghan evacuees play soccer together Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Camp Atterbury, Ind. The division soldiers along with Indiana National Guard soldiers will provide transportation, temporary housing, medical screening and logistics support as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
Afghan evacuees play soccer together Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Camp Atterbury, Ind. The division soldiers along with Indiana National Guard soldiers will provide transportation, temporary housing, medical screening and logistics support as part of Operation Allies Welcome. (Raekwon Jenkins/U.S. Army)

(Tribune News Service) — In the middle of an international crisis, Afghan families are finding refuge — and moments of comfort — at Camp Atterbury.

Two young boys are seen playing soccer with a U.S. Army soldier in a recent photo. A man from Johnson County in Indiana, where Camp Atterbury is located, donated various items, including a Quran and soccer balls.

"Welcome!" one of the soccer balls said.

The outpouring of support from Hoosiers has been "overwhelming," says Michael Martel, a Marine Corps veteran who is overseeing donations for families at Camp Atterbury. He is the operations associate for Team Rubicon, a veteran-led nonprofit helping with Afghan resettlement efforts across the U.S.

"The willingness to help — it's strong," Martel said. "It's good to see that. It's ... been a while since I've seen it, you know, on this scale. It's been a long time. So again, Indiana has been great."

The first group of evacuees began arriving at Camp Atterbury last week. As one of eight "Operation Allies Refuge" sites nationwide, the Indiana base could host up to 5,000 refugees temporarily, as they enter the next chapter of their lives in the United States. Evacuees will be on the site for only a few weeks before permanently resettling across the country.

It can be a difficult journey, Martel says. Some families come in with just a single set of clothes, he said, or without any shoes.

"Just having people look at it from their point of view," Martel said. "If you had to get up and just take what you currently have now on you and get deposited across the world where you may not speak the language, you have no family, you're just on your own, you know — how much easier would be if somebody just said, 'I'm here to help'?"

People inside and outside of Camp Atterbury have been answering that call to action. Here are some of the organizations helping Afghan families and here's how to get involved:

Team Rubicon

Team Rubicon, a nonprofit focused on disaster response, is managing donations at Camp Atterbury.

Hoosiers can help by donating directly to the organization, according to the Indiana National Guard. Team Rubicon accepts new items only, including clothing, diapers, blankets, non-battery operated toys and toiletries.

To donate money, visit Team Rubicon's "Ready Reserve Fund" online. To donate items, see the full list online and email resettlementsupport@teamrubiconusa.org for shipping and drop-off locations. To volunteer in person, visit rollcall.teamrubiconusa.org.

Donations are distributed on a rolling basis as families arrive and stay, according to Martel. When families first arrive, volunteers try to meet their immediate needs first and foremost, including at least one pair of clothes.

Right now, the team is working on the "second" phase of donations at Camp Atterbury, hoping to get more clothes and items such as crayons and coloring books distributed this week.

American Red Cross

American Red Cross teams are providing items such as food, water, toiletries and baby care items to evacuees across the United States. To contribute financially, visit the Red Cross online or call 1-888-684-1441.

The organization is not collecting donations for Camp Atterbury families. At this time, they do not have "the capacity to process or distribute donated items for Afghan evacuees," according to a recent news release.

The group is offering support in other ways, as requested by the Department of Defense. About 125 volunteers are assisting onsite at various locations nationwide, including Camp Atterbury. The Indiana Region of the American Red Cross has eight volunteers there, the agency said Friday.

Exodus Refugee Immigration

Though evacuees are only housed at Camp Atterbury temporarily, organizations like Exodus Refugee Immigration will help families permanently resettle after they leave Camp Atterbury and other sites.

"While Exodus is preparing to welcome refugees to our community, our work will happen as the 'next step' after refugees are processed at military bases throughout the country, including Camp Atterbury," the organization explains online.

That next step could mean culturally appropriate clothing and housewares to help families' new houses feel like home.

"We'll set up an apartment so like it looks like a family is living there," Cole Varga, executive director of Exodus Refugee Immigration, previously told IndyStar.

The organization accepts new or gently used household items, IndyGo passes and gift cards to certain retailers. They do not accept clothing donations.

For a full list of items to donate, visit: exodusrefugee.org/take-action/household-donations/. To make an appointment to drop off a donation, email csanborn@exodusrefugee.org. To volunteer as an English language tutor, visit exodusrefugee.org/take-action/volunteer.

Natalia E. Contreras contributed to this report.

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