Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Refugees Celebrate First Christmas In Seattle Area

Princess dolls, race cars and bicycles with training wheels. Those are a few of the gifts handed out to hundreds of families in Kent this week. Many were immigrants and refugees, and for some it will be their first Christmas here in the U.S.


The line stretches down the block at a church in Kent as volunteers shout out numbers.

Ten-year-old Sergio Sisneros peeks inside, where the gifts are piled high.

Sergio Sisneros: "I’m wishing for a dog, German shepherd."

Jones: "A puppy or a big dog?"

Sisneros: "Well I want a puppy so he can grow with me."

He flashes a smile at his mom.

Jones: "Did you get your mom a present this year?"

Sergio: "I’m gonna."

His mom laughs.

Sergio's parents are originally from Mexico. They’ve lived here since he was born.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Families line up to recieve toy donations, organized by the Kent Food Bank and Kent Fire Department.", "fid": "123009", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201512/20151223-toy-giving.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]Nearly 700 families signed up for this annual toy give-away. It includes a global mix – from places like Myanmar and Iraq. The Kent food bank and local firefighters organize the event, and this year they collected more than 4,000 gifts.

A young family from Iran waits for their number to be called. They spent last Christmas at a refugee camp in Turkey.

Jones: "When did you come to Seattle?"

Jafari: "Seattle is maybe 10 months ago."

Jones: "Oh, so this is your first Christmas in the U.S.?"

Jafari: "Yes, this is first Christmas. We are happy."

That’s Milad Jafari. This year, his 9-year-old son, Hammad, singled out just one wish.

Hammad: "I want for the Christmas a bike."

The parents exchange a look. It’s a raffle for the few bikes here, and they didn’t win. They try not to show their disappointment.

A volunteer hands them a bag of toys. And then, some surprising news.

Volunteer: "OK, they pulled a couple more numbers. You guys won a bike."

Jafari's wife, Sara Valizadeh, tries to make sense of what's going on.

Valizadeh: "Bicycle? What?"

Her husband takes her arm, nodding his head. Valizadeh just breaks down crying.

Volunteer: "Christmas miracles happen. Merry Christmas."

Jafari: "Thank you, sir. Thank you so much."

For many new refugees, the first years here can be a struggle. Jafari says they’re grateful for the community donations and support. His wife searches for the right words.

Valizadeh: "Thank you. You ... happy birthday. Happy Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas," she finally says, after her husband's prompt.

She laughs at her holiday mix-up. With two young kids, she’ll get the lingo down soon enough.    

[asset-images[{"caption": "This Iraqi refugee and her family were resettled in Kent two years ago.", "fid": "123010", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201512/20151223-toy-giving2.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]

Year started with KUOW: 2006