Two Portland women are welcoming newcomers and honoring their own family history.
Helping refugees has always been important to the Enriquez family. “My dad was a child refugee from Cuba,” Adrienne explains. “He was one of ten kids brought to the U.S. by his parents, who left Cuba after the revolution in 1959. Now we have this huge extended family here in Portland, and we wanted to pay our good fortune forward.”
The 2016 presidential election spurred sisters-in-law Adrienne and Alysson to launch Butterfly Boxes. The nonprofit provides welcome boxes to refugees fleeing other countries and joining the Portland community. “I have two small children,” Alysson says. “We woke up that morning, and my daughter Evelyn, who was six at the time, was really hopeful that we were going to have our first woman president. She woke up and was just heart-broken and scared. Because of all the rhetoric she had heard, all she could think about in her little six-year-old mind was closing borders and build- ing walls. And so, for me, looking at these two little people, I felt this strong impetus to do something. I had to show my kids that even though it felt scary, everything was going to be okay.”
With help from the community and in partnership with Catholic Charities of Portland, Butterfly Boxes leapt into action. It now provides newcomers basic supplies for infants, children, and adults—everything from towels and toiletries to key chains and diapers. The nonprofit accepts donations via Amazon Wishlists and organizes monthly get-togethers for volunteers to build the boxes. On average, Butterfly Boxes distributes about 500 boxes a year to refugees in the Portland area.
“All we need to do is put a call out on our Facebook or Instagram and say, ‘Hey, we have a specific need or a specific goal. Or we are in need of toiletries, please, donate.’ The response has been phenomenal and largely word of mouth,” Alysson says. “People have even hosted their own parties to assemble Butterfly Boxes, and we only find out about them when they deliver the boxes. I’m a knitter and Adrienne’s a quilter, so we were both able to get our local guilds that we are a part of involved. So many different parts of our community have shown they care.”
Butterfly Boxes isn’t the Enriquezes first experience helping others as a family. In 2013, two generations of Enriquezes decided to “adopt” a recently resettled family during the holidays and use their combined resources to provide everything from fresh produce to children’s books to major appliances. This is now an annual holiday tradition for the family.
That first year, Catholic Charities hooked them up with another large family like theirs—a Somali family with 21 members. When the Enriquezes were told what they most wanted and needed, they were surprised. “It was items like Chapstick, blankets, and baby bottles. We learned so much from them. We didn’t realize beforehand that some of their needs were so simple,” Adrienne says.
One major reason the Enriquezes decided to continue sponsoring fami- lies was to teach the children in their own family the significance of giving back—in particular to refugees. “It is important to us that the next genera- tion, the grandchildren, understands more about where the family came from and the importance of giving to others,” Adrienne says. “Our family wouldn’t be where it is today without a lot of help from other people, in particular Catholic Charities, which resettled our family in the area.”
Because the family already had such a close relationship with Catholic Charities, Adrienne and Alysson knew who to turn to get Butterfly Boxes off the ground. And it was the lessons they learned from sponsoring refugee families that gave them the courage to realize that they could have an impact and even provide a way for their neigh- bors to help as well.
“This was a really natural way to move forward and say, ‘Okay, so we’ve been working on this, we know that people want to help with this issue. We think that we’re pretty good at organizing things. We have the connections with Catholic charities. So let’s do this thing,’” Adrienne says.
“I’ve been blown away by people’s kindness—and so have my children; Evelyn loves being involved with Butterfly Boxes,” she says. “Adrienne and I are both fairly Type-A organized people, so it became a fit for us to become this conduit for the community to be able to give back in a really easy way. But the most important thing our success confirms is that there are a lot of people out there with the appetite to just do something good."