First Presbyterian Church bustled with color and warmth on Saturday as Elm City residents arrived to purchase handmade crafts from members of New Haven’s Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services women’s sewing group.

Thirty refugee women gathered in the church to sell handmade clothing items and jewelry, henna designs, pillows and international homemade pastries. Saturday’s event was the second craft sale Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, a nonprofit resettlement agency, has organized this year. Fifteen women participated in a sale in July, and that event’s success prompted Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services to host a holiday sale as well. The sewing group included women from Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan and Syria, according to the event page. All proceeds from the event were kept by the artisans.

“[The craft sale] is important on so many levels. One for the community, it’s an education to know about [the organization] and to know about immigrant families and what they are able to do to help their families and be self-sufficient,” said Amanda Bisset, a social worker at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. “It’s also helpful for the women to feel empowered that they’re contributing. A lot of the times, when they come here, they struggle with language, and they struggle to find a job. So having an outlet in Iris to come and socialize with other women, and also have the opportunity to make a little money is really inspiring.”

Bisset said Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services hosts the sewing group, which has been running for more than two years, each week using donated items including machines and fabric.

The sale was filled with New Haven families buying holiday gifts, drinking coffee and eating pastries. Shoppers conversed with members of the sewing group, asking them where they came from and trying to get a better understanding of their situations.

“I found out about the event through [the organization’s] Facebook page,” said Ariana Kosmides, who attended the sale with her son and bought homemade bread. “[The sale] is great because we learn about the food, crafts and art from other cultures and … support the women who have made all these beautiful sewing.”

Crafts included earrings, scarfs, rugs, tablecloths and more. Every stand had a small description of the woman that detailed where she came from and what she was selling.

“I like the life and the job,” said Marhamah Khan, a refugee from Afghanistan who has been in the United States for five months and was selling colorful handmade pillows. Khan is taking English lessons through Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. 

On Feb. 4, 2018, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services will have its biggest fundraiser of the year, the “Run for Refugees” 5K race.

Berenice Valencia |