Volunteers step up for sanctuary duty at Unitarian Society

  • A group of volunteers listen to Lisa Britland, right, during a training session for sanctuary sheltering of Irida Kakhtiranova, a Russian immigrant, Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nancy Sardeson, who is a coordinator at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, speaks to a group of volunteers during a training session for sanctuary sheltering of Irida Kakhtiranova, a Russian immigrant, Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at USNF. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lisa Britland, from right, Christine Sass and Nancy Sardeson speak to a group of volunteers during a training session for sanctuary sheltering of Irida Kakhtiranova, a Russian immigrant, Tuesday, at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 4/10/2018 11:04:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When a place of worship decides to provide sanctuary to an immigrant facing deportation, that congregation is committing to lots of behind-the-scenes work — everything from security detail to cooking meals.

It’s for that reason that around a dozen people were gathered at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence for an “accompaniment volunteer” training on Tuesday evening. Following the announcement that local Russian-born immigrant Irida Kakhtiranova had taken up sanctuary there to avoid being torn away from her three children and husband, the church has begun the process of putting logistical supports in place for her.

“It has been a real experience for us this week,” Nancy Sardeson, a team coordinator, told those gathered Tuesday. “But it’s all good. And it works.”

The volunteers will take turns — some overnight, others during shorter daytime shifts — to make sure that Kakhtiranova isn’t alone in the building at any time. 

“This is not easy. It’s not easy for her, and I imagine it will not be easy down the road,” Sardeson said. “And that’s part of our challenge that we’re learning as well — how to support her… we are here to meet her needs.”

As part of the training, the volunteers took a tour of the church to familiarize themselves with its layout, and discussed security protocols for when someone wants buzzed into the building’s side door.

“I’m just doing my part,” said the Rev. Michael McSherry, pastor of Edwards Church of Northampton, just kitty-corner from the Unitarian Society. “It’s also an expression of the values that I claim.” 

Edwards Church isn’t set up to physically provide sanctuary, so the congregation decided to provide support to any other place of worship. Other local congregations and interested volunteers have also stepped up to provide the day-to-day people power needed to keep Kakhtiranova as comfortable as possible.

As if on cue, just as Lisa Britland, the Unitarian Society’s administrator, was showing the volunteers the security camera, volunteer Bill Diamond showed up with a food delivery for Kakhtiranova and the on-duty accompaniment volunteer.

“I think it’s going well,” Diamond said of the food volunteers’ efforts. 

Diamond was holding on his hip a large paper bag with everything from lettuce to half-and-half in it, and said he is one of more than 40 volunteers signed up for food deliveries. In fact, he had just run into another volunteer, Corky Klimczak, at the grocery store. “We’re all over the place,” he said. 

As for the accompaniment volunteers, their duties are to be there for Kakhtiranova when she needs them, and to learn what her needs are. She eats dinner with her family over video chat at night, for example, so volunteers won’t expect to have that meal with her, Sardeson said.

“We’re becoming allies to the undocumented people in this country who have been dealing with this for years,” Sardeson said of the congregation’s purpose in organizing the efforts. “It has heightened under Trump, but it’s not new.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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