Pillow-palooza: Bainbridge Island shows its soft side for refugees

When an $1,800 charge for 500 pillows showed up on Rev. Paul Stumme-Diers’ credit card, a quick-thinking customer service representative sprung into action.

Stumme-Diers recalled the urgent phone call, and how a suspected criminal caper was really a case of charity and compassion.

No, he told the caller, he wasn’t a victim of identity theft.

Instead, Stumme-Diers of Bethany Lutheran Church had purchased the pillows for the upcoming “500 Pillows for 500 Refugee Dreams,” event, which will be held at the church at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12. The pillows will be stored at the church for distribution to newly emigrated families by Lutheran Community Services of the Northwest, a social services branch of the Lutheran Church.

“The idea has come out of the Bethany spirit, of really serving our neighbor and reaching out to those that Jesus would reach out to,” Stumme-Diers said.

“Especially when we see the plight of so many refugees in the world. As people of faith we feel like we’re called to reach out to those that are the most disadvantaged in the world,” he said.

Last November, Stumme-Diers noticed an online retailer was holding a sale on pillows. Knowing Lutheran Community Services was in need of pillows and bedding for refugees, he purchased 100.

“We had the kids play around with them on a Sunday morning and used them in our worship and imagined how they were going to be used in welcoming a new people to our nation,” he said.

After the 100 pillows had been distributed, Stumme-Diers received a call from Lutheran Community Services asking if he had any more. So he waited for another sale.

It took five days and five delivery trucks to move all 500 pillows into the church.

Now flanking the pulpit on both sides stands a wall of cardboard boxes with Kohl’s printed on the side. The boxes are stacked nearly to the ceiling and in front of them sits a mountain of 500 pillows — queen-size, microfiber pillows called “the Big One.”

“You can jump in if you want,” he joked.

Saturday’s event comes after refugees and immigrants have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. A travel ban imposed by President Trump blocked immigrants and refugees of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., and Washington state officials led by Attorney General Bob Ferguson challenged the ban in court and won a temporary restraining order that halted the ban.

The eventual status of the ban will be decided later in a federal court, but concerns still remain surrounding the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S..

“I think this is a statement saying that we feel otherwise,” Stumme-Diers said.

“We really feel as though immigrants really strengthen our nation and really are an important dimension of who we are. I’m a second generation German immigrant and I’m very appreciative of our immigration policies,” he said. “And I have to imagine that new immigrants really have a lot to offer our nation.”

Saturday’s event will feature singing and group photos with all the pillows.

John Forseth, Lutheran Community Services’ program director for refugee resettlement and placement, will also offer brief remarks.

“Come and join us, this is not a Bethany Lutheran Church event,” Stumme-Diers said . “This is a Bainbridge Island, whole-Kitsap-County event and we want everyone to really feel a part of this.”

Nick Twietmeyer can be reached at ntwietmeyer@bain bridgereview.com or 206-842-6613.

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