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Interfaith council leads outpouring for Syrian war victims

  • Greenfield YMCA leaders club members Nina Holden, 10, left, and Brynn Mullen, 11, assemble sanitation kits to send to Syria as part of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County project to provide relief for women and children in Syria, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 in Bernardston. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Members of St. Paul's Lutheran church and the Greenfield YMCA leaders club pack boxes of goods and supplies to send to Syria, as part of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County project to provide relief for women and children in Syria, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 in Bernardston. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Charlie Olchowski piles boxes packed with goods and supplies to send to Syria as part of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County project to provide relief for women and children in Syria, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 in Bernardston. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Greenfield YMCA leaders club members Sofia Holden, 12, from left, advisor Becka Bellows, Brynn Mullen, 11, and Nina Holden, 10, sort through donated clothing to send to Syria as part of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County project to provide relief for women and children in Syria, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 in Bernardston. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Charlene Golonka of Greenfield and Clare Green of Warwick display handmade quilt being donated to Syrian war victims. Susan Perez photo



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

As the 7-year-old Syrian civil war drags on, there has been an outpouring of aid from around Franklin County as part of a broader Valley Syrian relief effort.

The continuing grassroots campaign has so far collected at least $7,080 in cash, 380 pounds of rice, 156 pounds of beans, lentils and chickpeas, 40 pounds of pasta, as well as peanut butter, backpacks, sleeping bags, bedding, 15 boxes of clothes, 300 diapers and 95 notebooks with pencils, crayons and markers. Last weekend, middle school students from the Greenfield Community YMCA Leaders Club packed shipping containers at Bernardston Self-Storage.

“I am just overwhelmed and delighted with the response,” said Charlene Golonka of Greenfield, an Interfaith Council of Franklin County member. She initiated the collections last September after hearing NuDay Syria founding director Nadia Alawa at a Valley Syrian Relief Committee panel discussion in Northampton.

Golonka’s own church, Second Congregational Church of Greenfield, which has concentrated on collecting dry and canned foods as well as school supplies for displaced Syrians still in their home country, is scheduled to host a talk by Pat Hynes of Traprock Center for Peace and Justice on Feb. 18. The 2 p.m. program is free and open to the public, with donations accepted.

Hynes and two other women traveled last October to Lebanon to interview Syrian women in refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border, as well as visit a Lebanese-run school for Syrian children. Hynes will give a presentation with slides on the plight of female refugees in war and on the work of local Lebanese and Syrian organizations providing aid.

The focus of the talk at the Greenfield church is on refugees, rather than Syrian war victims who have remained in their country.

Regardless, said Golonka, “It’s a labor of love.”

Marguerite Sheehan, minister at Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls, brought the idea to clergy at the West County Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service, who decided to offer all $734 from proceeds of its Thanksgiving service collection to the project.

Shelburne Falls Bowling Alley volunteered to organize a collection that netted $1,000 in cash and several boxes filled mostly with coats and jackets.

In Warwick, Clare Green said she and about a dozen other women have been knitting woolen afghans — a service project with members of a weekly Northfield meditation group — for the past six years or so. The idea was inspired by a North Quabbin Martin Luther King Jr. event she attended with Doris Bittenbender of Orange.

“It’s wonderful that there’s this connection on the ground helping women and children in war-torn Syria,” said Green, who also encouraged Warwick’s Metcalf Chapel to launch a drive as well. “We can’t do enough.”

The Academy at Charlemont has also been holding collections, noted Golonka.

In a written update on the campaign earlier this month, Golonka credited Temple Israel in Greenfield with donating $1,625 so far, plus clothing, and said there have been two truckloads of food and supplies headed to Syria.

Alawa, she said, confirmed that, despite the bombing of civilian areas, the containers NuDay Syria has been sending are getting to the displaced Syrians in Idlib Province.

With a long list of participants, including a dozen other churches in Greenfield, Charlemont, Ashfield, Shelburne, Northfield and Heath, Golonka said, “We’re a big-hearted community. I can’t say I’ve been surprised, because in this community, when you put out a call, people respond, and that’s always been the case. At least once a week, I’m completely delighted. And we’re only halfway through.”

On the Web: facebook.com/valleysyrianrelief