This Nonprofit's Supper Club Is Using Food to Welcome Refugees to America
Dropped into the mayhem of Los Angeles, many newly arrived refugees struggle to find their way. With a love- your-neighbor ethos, Miry Whitehill is changing that, one community meal at a time.
On a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, people spilled from the sidewalk of a hip neighborhood to the backyard of a local real estate rental agency. Long tables were set with flickering candles and red and green chutneys. The guests were there for New Arrival Supper Club, a gathering put on by Miry's List, a nonprofit that helps newly arrived refugees with temporary housing arrangements, organized play dates, career mentorship, advice on navigating the U.S. banking system and more. Miry Whitehill, the organization's founder, welcomed everyone, and volunteers stood at the ready to serve the meal prepared by Naseema Kashefi.
Naseema and her husband, Bashir, emigrated from Afghanistan in 2017. With no friends or family in America, and no money left over after their long trip, Bashir, Naseema and their young daughter slept on the street when they arrived. Naseema, also pregnant at the time, was desperate to go back to Afghanistan and her family. Bashir pleaded with her to be patient. "I knew it was not safe for us there," he told the Supper Club guests. Years of working as a translator for the U.S. military meant Bashir was fully aware of how dangerous the country had become, and that he was a target in Afghanistan. "Everyone knew who I was ... including the Taliban." On their third day here, a man stopped while on his early-morning jog. Also from Afghanistan, he knew about Miry's List and connected the Kashefis with the organization. That very night they were in a hotel and, soon after, their own apartment.
Bashir shared his family's story while the guests enjoyed the meal that Naseema had prepared, including mantu, beef dumplings set atop garlicky yogurt sauce, and an Afghan curry called kurma. "Miry's List not only supported us with stuff and money, they gave us courage to stay here," he explained.
Whitehill started the organization in 2016 after she brought some baby gear to a newly arrived Syrian family and realized they were lacking in basic household supplies. She FaceTimed an Arabic-speaking friend who helped translate, and they created a list of items that the family needed. Whitehill posted the list on Facebook, and within a couple of weeks, their apartment was stocked with these essentials. Miry's List was born.
New Arrival Supper Club began in 2017, when a chef suggested that Whitehill host a small fundraising dinner featuring a Syrian family's food. The Kashefis' sold-out dinner was the 59th edition and many more are planned. Whitehill notes that these events are a perfect fit for families like the Kashefis—Naseema can share her recipes and Bashir can share their story. "It gives them an opportunity to show off their skills, culture and family history while earning money and meeting their new neighbors," Whitehill explains. Not only do these dinners raise money for Miry's List, cooks take home more than half the ticket sales. Several families are even making a living from catering after cooking for New Arrival Supper Club, and the nonprofit hopes to soon have its own commercial kitchen space.
While the events have grown in scale, they still feel personal and communal, like that backyard gathering. "Over the last two years, we've been able to bring thousands of people together with our Supper Club families," explains the program's director, Christy Ander-son. The events are a delicious way to "unite people with the universal language of food," she adds.
Bringing neighbors together is what Miry's List strives for, and at their latest dinner the world felt a little smaller. After Bashir Kashefi told the guests about his family's immigration story, he paused and looked around. "Before, I didn't know anybody [in the U.S.], but now I have lots of friends," he said, smiling.
New Arrival Supper Club Recipes
Fattoush Salad (pictured above)
Chicken Kurma (pictured above)
Laurel Randolph is a Los Angeles-based food writer, recipe developer and cookbook author. She's currently writing a book about the history of pie.
This story originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine January/February 2020.