Hello Neighbor invites you to hop aboard the welcome wagon to support refugees.

The East Liberty-based nonprofit, which improves the lives of resettled families by pairing them with long-time Pittsburghers, is hosting its first fundraiser, Home Sweet Home. The all-ages event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Union Project in Highland Park.

It’s going to be sweet: 16 Syrian and Afghan refugee women affiliated with Hello Neighbor’s mentorship program are whipping up treats from their native lands. For their efforts, they will be paid a living wage and receive a portion of the proceeds. Attendees can enjoy the desserts and learn a bit about the cultures where the recipes originated.

These home chefs — some who’ve been living in the U.S. for just six months and others who’ve been here as long as five years — are currently living at or below the poverty line. They will be joined by representatives from a wide range of popular local food eateries, bakeries and purveyors: Black Radish Kitchen, Confections PGH by Casey Renee, Cafe Raymond, Casa Brasil, Choolaah, Cookie Table, Enrico’s Biscotti, Iron Born, Khalil’s Middle Eastern Restaurant, Lorelei, Mancini’s, Mon Aimee Chocolat, Oakmont Bakery, Piccolo Forno, Salem’s, Scratch F&B, Soergel Orchards and Tazza D’Oro are all participating.

Photo courtesy of Hello Neighbor.

Pre-sale tickets are $30 for general admission, $65 for a family of four with the opportunity to add additional kids for $10 each, or $100 for a VIP package that includes a box of custom sweets to take home and early access to tickets for Hello Neighbor’s upcoming food events.

While they indulge their sweet tooth, guests also can also try henna and face painting, as well as creative craft stations.

Since 2017, Hello Neighbor has matched 95 families from 13 different countries with caring and supportive Pittsburghers, racking up more than 5,000 mentoring hours and 500 activities that participants have done together.

Founder and Executive Director Sloane Davidson says it all started as a way for moms to help other moms. After some time away from the city, she moved back to Pittsburgh to get family support during her first pregnancy. She ended up helping others.

She befriended a Syrian family in her Highland Park neighborhood. While sharing meals in each other’s homes, Davidson offered advice on living in Pittsburgh. Other refugees started asking if they could be connected with a friendly neighbor to teach them the ropes.

Through word of mouth, community outreach and Davidson’s partnerships with local faith leaders and agencies that work with refugees, Hello Neighbor was born.

Participants hail from 13 countries, including Bhutan, Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mentors are accepted on a rolling basis and are welcomed into a new cohort one to two times per year

Activities for the participants include things like sailing on the Gateway Clipper, going to a Riverhounds game, attending a potluck or visiting a museum. Hello Neighbor plans to hold these events one or two times for each cohort.

“We ask for a six-month commitment of 10 hours per month,” Davidson says. “It works out to once a week or once every other week depending on what you do together.”

In addition to mentoring, Hello Neighbor has a community calendar with events and opportunities for all Pittsburghers to connect and learn more about each other’s cultures while working to create a more welcoming community.

Food is a great unifier.

The organization began hosting bake sales in 2018 with goods made by Syrian refugee moms. Each event was a huge success.

As the organization grows, Hello Neighbor is also embarking on fundraising and educational dinners with area chefs and restaurants. And it will soon launch a new program called Smart Start for Refugee Mothers and Children, which focuses on supporting refugee moms as they navigate the healthcare system. Participants will be matched with a volunteer for support.

“I often say the true goal of Hello Neighbor is to help the refugees feel more comfortable and confident in their new lives here, and for the moms in particular who struggle with taking care of little kids and many of whom lack the language to communicate in English,” Davidson says. “This is huge towards feeling independent and like they’re contributing to the success of their families.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.