Each month, a volunteer at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services is featured for their dedication of time and talent. This month's volunteer spotlight is:

Ann and Robert Hollis - December 2017

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Because of the shortage of affordable rental housing options in Sacramento, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services’ (SFBFS) Refugee Resettlement Service must always have a back-up housing option for newly arrived refugee families. Sometimes this means a short stay at a hotel, or in some cases, a stay with a host family in the Sacramento area. One of these volunteer host families is Ann and Robert Hollis, a couple who hosted an Afghan family of seven in May 2017 for about two weeks while they waited for an available apartment.

Ann and Robert first contacted SFBFS in November 2016. They had heard of the need for volunteer families to provide temporary housing for refugees in emergencies when other housing options were not available. Feeling the need to contribute, they asked to be placed on the list of host families. In May, they got a call asking for help – a family of seven was arriving the next day – could they host them? Ann and Robert gladly agreed to open their home to this family, consisting of a husband and wife and their five young children. The family arrived after midnight and settled in. Early in the morning, the children woke up before their parents. Although they spoke no English, Ann engaged them immediately by inviting them to play outside, blow bubbles and draw with sidewalk chalk.

Ann reflects on what an amazing learning experience it was to immerse in Afghan culture during the family’s two-week stay. The holiday of Ramadan occurred during the family’s stay, so they fasted during the day and broke fast in the evening. Ann and Robert opened their kitchen to the family, and they enjoyed delicious typical Afghan meals together. Similarly, the family enjoyed many new American experiences, thanks to Ann and Robert, during their two-week stay. The Hollises took them on a trip to San Francisco where they saw the Golden Gate Bridge and real live surfers as well as a trip to Lake Tahoe where they had the chance to go kayaking. The kids enjoyed fun and simple things like baking cupcakes, riding on the couple’s tractor, and “playing” with new contraptions such as the ice cube dispenser and the garage door opener.

Reflecting on the hosting experience, Ann comments, “When co-existing with families from other countries, we learn so much about cultures, value systems, life experiences. We get as much out of it [or more] than we give. It is astounding how we are all truly one humanity with shared beliefs and values.” Although the family did move into permanent housing after their two week stay, Ann and Robert have maintained contact and developed a friendship with the family. The family now refers to Ann and Robert as “Grandma and Grandpa.” They enjoy taking turns hosting dinners and holidays.

In addition to hosting a family, Ann and Robert have also coordinated donation drives in Placer County, collecting needed items for newly arrived refugee families, such as food, clothing, furniture and toys. Volunteers such as Ann and Robert help make newly arrived families feel welcomed and supported. They open doors across cultures. They open doors for understanding, tolerance and friendship.