Charities Hosts Thank You Lunch
By Margarita Mendoza, El Observador Editor
November 22, 2018
ROCKFORD—This is the time of the year to say “thank you,” and that is exactly what Janet Biljeskovic, director of the Refugee Resettlement Program of Catholic Charities did on Nov. 14 at lunch time. 
 
“Today is our day to actually thank our volunteers and our community members who are really helping a lot with the refugee resettlement,” she said.
 
During 2018 the service helped “about 128” refugees, especially from Africa, she said.
 
They received assistance in “immigration and refugee resettlement services which include employment (with a goals of) self-sufficiency” for those who have been victims of violence or human trafficking, she explained. 
 
“We find them apartments, furniture, personal items. We have food ready for them. We pick them up from the bus station, usually that is the way they come,” Biljeskovic said.
 
Other services include English as a Second Language classes, cultural orientation, assistance in getting Social Security cards, enrolling themselves and their children in school, and more. 
 
In order to be documented as a refugee,  she said, “They need to be recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.” 
 
The UN commission refers cases to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which in turn refers them to Catholic Charities Refugee Relief Services.
 
Biljeskovic and her office have hosted the luncheon about five years.
 
Each year features different types of food from different countries and continents, prepared by herself, her staff and refugees. 
 
This year dishes included rice with pigeon peas from Cuba, turkey cooked by a man from Burma (also known as Myanmar), a dish from Eritrea (in Africa), as well as bread from the former Yugoslavia. 
 
Mollie Singh is one of the volunteers. “We, in a small way, help these women get settled in this community,” Singh said. “We teach them a little English, we teach them skills in sewing and job skills, following directions, and probably giving them some money because when we sell the bags whatever money we get ... goes straight to the women.” 
 
Singh said they sell the bags in “arts and craft shows here in Rockford.” 
 
The bags are made by refugee women who are part of a sewing group at the refugee office.
 
The next one will be 4-9 p.m. Dec. 6 at  Rockford Handmade Market, 200 Prairie St.The handmade bags range in price from $10 to $20.
 
Officer Richard Dodd from the Rockford Police also attended the luncheon. He helps “with the new refugees to kind of get them the understanding of what the police do, and that we are here to help them.”
 
Transportation is important in helping refugees settle into their new home. Lisa Brown leads “the bus training, bus orientation program for Catholic Charities,” she said. 
 
“Whenever we have new arrivals, I have a training class and explain how we ride the bus, how we read the schedule books and we actually go home in the bus,” she said. 
 
Brown says she feels fulfilled when she sees that the day after having taught someone how to transport himself, that person can go to take ESL classes or go to Catholic Charities for some other business.
 
Mike Cannariato teaches English to the refugees. “All the volunteers I know feel blessed to work with this gracious inspiration of refugees,” he said.