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Couple Donates Carpets to Help Resettled Afghans Feel at Home

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Mike McCree, who co-owned Caravan Connection with his wife, Mary Lynn in Bedford Hills, stands with some of his remaining carpets last week. The couple donated about 100 area rugs to Afghan refugees. Martin Wilbur photo

For more than 40 years, Mike and Mary Lynn McRee loved being in the Oriental carpet business.

Last Thursday, they walked out of their Bedford Hills store, Caravan Connection, for the last time, headed for semi-retirement, as Mike McCree described it. But before they left, they are likely to have helped make dozens of Afghan refugees coming to the area feel better about being newcomers in a strange land.

The Chappaqua residents donated about 100 of their rugs to various refugee resettlement organizations, including the Mount Kisco-based ReSET Westchester, Ossining for Refugees and the Refugee Resettlement Committee at Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor.

Instead of unloading all of them for a fraction of their retail cost, the McRees decided to try and make some families feel at home.

“We’re trying to do what we can to make their acculturation here in the United States as easy as possible, and in their culture having Oriental carpets on the floor is part of what they want and expect here,” Mike McRee said. “This is our means of giving back, if you will.”

The area rugs range in size from eight feet by 10 feet to 10 by 14, and would sell for between $2,500 and $7,000 apiece, he said.

The couple’s warm feeling toward people in the Middle East and the Mediterranean stemmed from their two years living in Turkey in the early 1970s. McRee had graduated West Point in 1971, and they moved to Izmir, Turkey, a place that he described as “a garden spot” while working at NATO headquarters for southeastern Europe. It also gave the McRees an opportunity to travel throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Europe.

“The Turks were just fabulous hosts,” McRee said. “They were so genuine and it gave me an insight to people in the Middle East. The feeling was that with so many blessings we received from living in Turkey for two years, we’re trying to go through and return the favor for people in Afghanistan. These people didn’t deserve all the obvious things here.”

Mary Refling of ReSET Westchester said there is cultural significance for Oriental carpeting for Afghans. When an Afghan couple plans to marry, they will commission a carpet to be made by hand for them, similar to a dowry, she said.

While many eat at a dining room table with chairs, there are still those who prefer to place pillows on their carpet and enjoy their family meals that way, she said.

With refugees having to flee their homeland on short notice late last summer, many arrived with little to nothing.

“A lot of the refugees that were evacuated in August were people who had good, solid lives and jobs,” Refling said. “Some worked for the government, some worked for the military, some worked fGOs. They had lives, homes, families, etc., and they left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Among the work that the local resettlement groups have undertaken is helping to find housing for the refugees and to help them become independent within the first year. When arriving at their new home, being treated to a culturally appropriate food supplied by the organizations or a beautiful new rug is a special touch, Refling said.

Linda Kingsbury, who has volunteered with the Congregation Sons of Israel group, said when the congregation formed the resettlement group last year, she felt compelled to volunteer because so many of today’s Americans have similar family stories but generations earlier.

“It’s the kind of story that makes everyone feel good and inspires people to do more and to help each other,” Kingsbury said.

Mike McRee downplayed he and his wife’s efforts and simply wanted to help others in need.

“We just want to go through and do what we can to give back,” he said. “That’s it.”

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