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Community partners gather donations for Afghan evacuees

Volunteers from the Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and Cannon AFB, N.M., communities pose for a photo Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman AFB, N.M. Volunteers from Cannon AFB collected and delivered a donation valued at $80,000 to be given to Afghan refugees in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

Volunteers from the Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and Cannon AFB, N.M., communities pose for a photo Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman AFB, N.M. Volunteers from Cannon AFB collected and delivered a donation valued at $80,000 to be given to Afghan refugees in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

Volunteers unload boxes of donations from moving trailers Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Volunteers from the Cannon AFB, N.M., community collected and delivered a donation valued at $80,000 in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

Volunteers unload boxes of donations from moving trailers Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Volunteers from the Cannon AFB, N.M., community collected and delivered a donation valued at $80,000 in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

A volunteer folds and sorts children’s clothes at the Holloman donation center Aug. 30, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Holloman community partners coordinated and collected donations in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Adrian Salazar)

A volunteer folds and sorts children’s clothes at the Holloman donation center Aug. 30, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Holloman community partners coordinated and collected donations in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Adrian Salazar)

Red Cross donations are stored at the Holloman donation center Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Over 110 tons of donations were collected in approximately nine days to be given to Afghan refugees arriving in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Adrian Salazar)

Red Cross donations are stored at the Holloman donation center Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Over 110 tons of donations were collected in approximately nine days to be given to Afghan refugees arriving in support of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Adrian Salazar)

A volunteer carries a mattress and a travel crib, Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. A donation for Afghan refugees valued at $80,000 was collected in five days by the Cannon Key Spouse Organization in partnership with the Clovis Civic Center. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

A volunteer carries a mattress and a travel crib, Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. A donation for Afghan refugees valued at $80,000 was collected in five days by the Cannon Key Spouse Organization in partnership with the Clovis Civic Center. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

Toys being donated to Afghan refugees arriving as part of Operation Allies Welcome are stored in the Holloman donation center Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

Toys being donated to Afghan refugees arriving as part of Operation Allies Welcome are stored in the Holloman donation center Sept. 3, 2021 on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for up to 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening and general support to Afghan evacuees at Holloman.

To aid these efforts, community partner volunteers worked around the clock to collect, sort and prepare needed items for Afghan evacuees. The donation effort began Thursday, Aug. 26, and within nine days the donation center reached its capacity.

“The first day I was a little worried, and then we got rushed with items,” said Megan Rowe, volunteer information and referral coordinator. “I was getting messages and phone calls about donating both from inside and outside the community. I wish we could do stuff like this all of the time -- this is amazing.”

The donation effort struck a personal chord with Rowe, as she recently returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan as an Air Advisor.

“I talked with Afghans almost every single day, and they would tell me stories about their lives,” said Rowe. “After hearing all their stories over there, I was like, ‘What can we do over here to support all these people?’ We have a wealth of stuff here in America these people don’t even come close to having.”

The monumental effort of volunteer teams both on Holloman and in the local community collected over 110 tons of supplies. The American Red Cross and United Services Organization also provided much needed contributions.

Donation efforts even spanned over 200 miles to Clovis, N.M., where the Cannon Key Spouse Organization, in partnership with the Clovis Civic Center, collected and delivered a donation valued at $80,000 in five days.

Kristin Riggs, a Cannon Key Spouse, executed what started as a simple squadron-level collection and expanded to an immense community-wide effort. She first stored donations in her spare bedroom, but as space became quickly limited, the Cannon Civic Center opened their ballroom as a collection point.

“At first I opened my guest room, then I opened my dining room, then my living room,” said Riggs.

She used the plethora of donations filling her house, many being children’s items, as an opportunity to begin teaching her young daughter the importance of giving back.

“My daughter is four and she’s at the age where she wants to help out,” said Riggs. “She would see a toy and want to play with it, and I would explain that she had plenty of toys to play with and this is going to someone who needs it.”

The collective efforts of volunteer teams, community partners and organizations across the state have generously provided enough supplies needed for comfort, hygiene and entertainment for the Afghan evacuees who have and are set to arrive.

“This year has been a heavy year, it’s taken a toll on us,” said Riggs. “People were telling me that I was taking on too much, but as I was doing it I could feel myself getting happy again. I feel like this is the goodness I needed in my heart. We see so much negative and bad in this world, we just need to all work together and help each other.”

After a tragedy comes an opportunity for growth and healing, and the communities of and around Holloman and Cannon have aided the growth and healing for many Afghan refugees.

“Think about who this is going to, think about what they have, think about the fact they’ve been wearing the same clothes for the last week or two weeks – think about the children,” said Rowe. “They were just doing what they could to survive, and seeing we care this much about them, I think that’s going to be very welcoming to them.”