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They Needed Blankets for Afghan Refugees, Northwoods Quilters Answered the Call

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Sew Smart
A truckload of donated quilts and blankets before it made its way to Fort McCoy. Sew Smart is collecting the blankets for Afghan refugees.

John Stuhlmacher takes the responsibility and the care of the Afghan refugees personally.

“With every child I saw, I saw my son or daughter. Every woman I saw there I saw my wife. Every man, I saw myself,” he said. “I just know we can do this as a community in getting them that dignity and essentials that they need to set themselves up for success.”

Stuhlmacher is the Senior Associate of Operations for Team Rubican USA based in Wisconsin. Team Rubican is one of many non-profits called in to help the refugees based at Fort McCoy.

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Spc. Rhianna Ballenger/Operation Allies Refuge
Afghan evacuee children took part in a drawing activity event at Fort McCoy.

While together the groups will make sure Afghan evacuees have everything they need to start off their new life in the U.S. on the right foot, Team Rubicon is in charge of gathering and organizing donations.

“Our job is to reach out to the community, especially here in Wisconsin where we’ve got that strong help a neighbor attitude. Get those donations. Bring them into our initial donations facility, separate them, organize them and then distribute them to all the Afghan evacuees,” said Stuhlmacher.

Stuhlmacher said emergency responses like this are what Team Rubicon is all about. The non-profit responds to floods, hurricanes, and fires in the U.S. and abroad to help people at a local level.

What makes Team Rubicon unique is that it’s lead and run by veterans.

“This one strikes really close to home with a lot of our veterans. I am veteran. I’m not a veteran of Afghanistan. I’m a veteran of Iraq,” Stuhlmacher said. “Just knowing the type of people I interacted with on a daily basis there, these are good people who were in a horrible situation. They’re now a stranger in a strange land and they have nothing.”

The Afghan refugees will need everything. Stuhlmacher said they weren’t allowed bags on the planes. This was to expedite their exit.

With more than 8,000 currently housed at Fort McCoy and up 13,000 expected, Stuhlmacher knows it will be challenge, but one he believes Wisconsin is up for.

“No matter where these evacuees end up settling permanently. I personally, as a Wisconsinite, want them to look back at their time in Wisconsin in a favorable way and have a really true reflection of what Wisconsinites are about and that’s diversity, inclusion, and just helping each other out,” he said.

So far, Wisconsinites are living up to that.

“It’s crazy. It’s just insane how much of a response we’ve had,” said Mary Wilke. Wilke owns Sew Smart, a sewing and quilting store with shops in Rhinelander and Wausau.

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Sew Smart
A single day of blanket donations. Sew Smart is helping collect them for Team Rubicon.

When the refugees started arriving at Fort McCoy, a customer and Team Rubicon volunteer reached out to Wilke asking if she’s put out a request for quilt and blanket donations.

Wilke didn’t hesitate. She put out the call on Facebook and donations have been pouring in since.

“We had a customer in today that was in tears just being able to help give us some blankets,” said Wilke. “We’ve had multiple customers that have gone to stores and bought brand new blankets.”

Wilke said one woman donated 40 of her own quilts.

Other quilt shops from Door County to Stevens Point have called Wilke asking if they could help collect too.

With more than four truckloads of blankets already delivered to Fort McCoy, Wilke said she’ll keep collecting until Team Rubicon tells her they don’t need anymore.

“I mean it just kind of broke my heart when I found out these people have, they don’t have any clothes, they have nothing,” said Wilke.

Stuhlmacher hopes this giving spirit not only shows up in these early days, but lasts to give the Afghan’s a fighting chance to build a new life in the U.S.

“We’re just in the beginning of this. This is going to be really a sea change event and a positive one.  Everything we can do to make these people’s lives better is just going to make Wisconsin a better place,” he said.

Team Rubicon is collecting everything from underwear to hygiene products. Only new items will be accepted at the collection site.

You can view a full list here. Shipping and donation drop off sites are changing. Team Rubicon recommends emailing resettlementsupport@teamrubiconusa.org to find the best place.

For quilt and blanket donations only, there are several quilt shops in the region collecting.

Sew Smart

2193 Lincoln Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501

227207 Rib Mountain Dr., Wausau, WI 54401

The Quilting Workshop

314 S 1st Ave, Wausau, WI 54401

Antionette’s Quilt Shop

3001 Michigan Ave, Stevens Point, WI 54481

Life’s A Stich

124 N Broadway, De Pere, WI 54115

Barn Door Quilts

154 N 3rd Ave, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235