Outpouring of donations for Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 7:32 PM CDT
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DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - After an overwhelming outpour of blanket and quilt donations for Afghan refugees from local quilt shops, volunteers at Fort McCoy says there’s a greater need for other items.

Sew Smart in Wausau and Rhinelander received a request from one of its customers, Tia Gale, a unit leader for the Wisconsin Army National Guard Armory in Sparta, to see if they would want to help with getting the word out about blanket and quilt donations. Gale was deployed to go to Fort McCoy for the month of September through Team Rubicon.

Life’s a Stitch in De Pere, Barn Door Quilt Shop in Sturgeon Bay, and the Quilting Workshop in Wausau, all have been drop-off locations for donations. The donations then were brought to Sew Smart in Wausau where Gale’s father, who is also a veteran and volunteer, picks them up and delivers them to Fort McCoy.

“It has been extremely overwhelming, but it’s also been heartwarming that so many people here locally in Green Bay, up in Sturgeon Bay, and over in Wausau want to help these refugees that have come over,” said Mikey Stencil, owner of Life’s a Stitch.

Tia contacted the owner of Sew Smart, Mary Wilke, on Saturday and by Tuesday, after all of the shops posted on Facebook asking for the community’s help, they began receiving donation after donation.

“With the 8 pickup trucks that have been picked up, you know if there’s 300 blankets per pickup truck, that’s 2,400 blankets already,” said Wilke.

On Friday, Sew Smart and Life’s a Stitch had reached a limit on what they could bring over to Fort McCoy, so all the blanket and quilt donations after today will be brought to Chicago to a National Guard warehouse and will be given to refugees in other forts across the United States.

Gale said they’ve had so much come in, but now they need to shift the focus on getting more personal items donated. She says, “The greater need right now is to be able to clothe our guests: jeans, shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, socks, shoes, underwear, personal hygiene items.”

The same quilt shops that brought in all of the blanket and quilt donations are willing to be a drop-off site for these other items and have the same process as they did with the blankets.

“We will bring that to Wausau, and then from Wausau it will go to Fort McCoy, and that goes through Tia’s father, would be willing to do that,” said Stencil.

Team Rubicon, a veteran-led nonprofit group that responds to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, began setting up operations at the Wisconsin Army National Guard Armory in Sparta and has been organizing, processing, and distributing clothes and other items at Fort McCoy.

“Our guests now, they were not allowed to bring any type of diaper bags, backpacks, nothing that could carry anything in. They were only allowed to come in with the clothes on their backs. So, with that being said, every day they’ve had to wash and re-wear and wash and re-wear the clothes that they had the day before.”

For a complete list of the items accepted and more information, click here.

To coordinate donations big or small, or interested in being a drop-off location, email

“Since Wisconsin has come together with all these quilts and overwhelming, I’m hoping we can do the same with any of the personal items and clothing that’s needed as well,” said Gale.

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