Miry’s List builds a welcoming community for refugees

Courtesy of miryslist.org/@miryslist

Miry Whitehill is the founder and owner of Miry’s List, an Eagle Rock-based nonprofit organization working to resettle and crowdsource resources for refugees in Los Angeles. Whitehill announced a new program called Welcome, Neighbor — aimed to connect community members to resettled refugees — in a Facebook post March 25. The new program is inspired by the Neighborhood Welcoming Resolution, which Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council (ERNC) adopted February 2017.

Whitehill said she started Miry’s List July 2016 after a friend put her in touch with a refugee family in need of furniture for their Eagle Rock apartment. Currently, Miry’s List serves over 270 families. Volunteers help refugee families by creating Amazon wishlists of household items that families need, and then they encourage members of the general public who are willing to purchase materials for the families.

According to Whitehill, the Neighborhood Welcoming Resolution declares Eagle Rock a safe and welcoming neighborhood for all. Four months after Eagle Rock assumed the resolution, Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar proposed the same resolution at the city level in a motion at the city council meeting May 3, 2017. The City Council approved the measure June 21.

In the post she shared with the Eagle Rock community, Whitehill said the neighborhood and city movements inspired her to implement similar programming in local government. Miry’s List is now developing the Welcome, Neighbor program to offer every neighborhood council in Los Angeles the opportunity to adopt similar resolutions.

“Eagle Rock, and people who live here, consistently demonstrate renegade badassery. I could not be more proud to call this place my home and live here with you all,” Whitehill wrote in the Facebook post.

According to Whitehill, the goals of the program are threefold: make LA the most welcoming city in America, engage 100,000 LA residents to support resettling refugees and asylum seekers over the next two years and empower LA’s Neighborhood Councils to be active in helping individuals and families experiencing resettlement in their communities. Whitehill said that many LA residents want to help refugees, but don’t know how to do so.

“There is a missing thread between the refugee resettlement system and the host communities in which families resettle,” Whitehill said.

Cyndi Otteson, president and executive director of Miry’s List, said the organization’s long-term goal is to have the resolution adopted by all of the neighborhood councils in LA.

“We find the strength of a movement is often done in larger numbers but it really takes one single act of somebody to ignite that kind of passion and optimism,” Otteson said.

Renee Brown, director of social media for Miry’s List, said that she has noticed a surge in interest to help refugees since the 2016 election.

“The political climate of what was happening last year definitely triggered me and a lot of people I know to be a lot more involved in creating or helping out people who may be harmed or would not benefit from the new administration,” Brown said.

According to Otteson, the resolution is a way to promote resettlement and support refugee communities regardless of what the federal administration and government are ruling.

Otteson said Miry’s List plans to implement donation boxes at neighborhood council meetings throughout LA, connect refugees to the communities they are entering and promote LA as a welcoming city for refugees. Whitehill said Miry’s List is now applying for grants to fund these efforts.

Although the methods have changed, Miry’s List still operates on the same principles of compassion and philanthropy that sparked its creation. According to Whitehill, she started Miry’s List when a friend connected her to a family of refugees that had recently moved from Syria to Eagle Rock, where Whitehill lives, and had a son the same age as hers. The family needed a baby rocker, so Whitehill contacted friends and family, found a rocker that would work and delivered it to the family.

“It was that one item for one baby that began a domino effect,” Whitehill said.

According to Whitehill, when she met this family in July 2016, she noticed how under-furnished their apartment was. Working with a translator, Whitehill made a list of items they needed and posted it on Facebook.

“Over the next couple of weeks, people that I knew donated everything on their list and a lot more,” Whitehill said. “Every other day I’d drive over to their house and give new donations, eat food, the kids would play and we got to know them.”

Whitehill’s list-making and crowdsourcing routine continued, but after aiding six or seven families she said it stopped being sustainable to drive items to people’s homes and work independently.

“I was so sure I wanted to figure out a solution to solving this important problem,” Whitehill said. “I went to sleep one night thinking about what the solution would be, I woke up and my Amazon delivery was at my door and it clicked — ‘Oh my god, I should be making Amazon wish lists.’”

From there, Miry’s List was born. According to Whitehill, much of the organization’s growth over the last two years happened naturally, as previous or current recipients of the program refer more than 90 percent of new families. The Amazon wishlist model opens the giving opportunity to everyone anywhere, Whitehill said.

According to Whitehill, the focus on crowdsourcing is integral to Miry’s List’s mission. She said she sees the items satisfied by the lists as only half the problem — the other half is the lack of community and support systems. Whitehill said her model seeks to solve both problems with one solution.

“Often [resettling families] don’t feel welcome or confident. They don’t have a built-in faith in humanity,” Whitehill said. “Every single box represents a stranger that decided to send them a gift to welcome them.”

Whitehill said it is easy to get involved, as the bulk of Miry’s List’s work is done over the internet, utilizing Facebook and Amazon to crowdsource and connect strangers anywhere willing to help with families in need. 

“Everyone goes online to shop at Amazon. When you go on there and you have to buy whatever, just click on a family list, just buy a pack of socks or soap or Clorox wipes,” Brown said. “It’s just one small purchase.”