Couple donates carpet to help resettled Afghans feel at home

Mike McCree, co-owner of Caravan Connection with his wife, Mary Lynn in Bedford Hills, stands with some of his leftover rugs last week. The couple donated around 100 area rugs to Afghan refugees. Photo Martin Wilbur

For over 40 years Mike and Mary Lynn McRee have loved working in the Oriental rug business.

Last Thursday they stepped out of their Bedford Hills store, Caravan Connection, for the last time, heading into semi-retirement, as Mike McCree described it. But before they left, they likely helped make dozens of Afghan refugees coming to the region feel better about being newcomers to a foreign country.

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

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

“We try to do what we can to make their acculturation here in the United States as easy as possible, and in their culture having oriental rugs on the floor is part of what they want and expect here,” said Mike McCree. “It’s our way of giving back, if you will.”

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

The couple’s warm feeling for people in the Middle East and Mediterranean stems from their two years in Turkey in the early 1970s. McRee had graduated from West Point in 1971, and they moved to Izmir, Turkey , a place he described as “a corner of the garden” while working at NATO Headquarters for South Eastern Europe. It also gave the McRees the opportunity to travel across the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe.

“The Turks were fabulous hosts,” McRee said. “They were so genuine and it gave me a glimpse of people in the Middle East. The feeling was that with so many blessings that we received from living in Turkey for two years, we are trying to get through and reciprocate to the people in Afghanistan. Those people didn’t deserve all the obvious things here.

Mary Refling of ReSET Westchester said oriental rugs have cultural significance for Afghans. When an Afghan couple plans to get married, they order a rug to be handmade 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 rugs and enjoy their meals together as a family, she said.

With refugees having to flee their homeland on short notice at the end of last summer, many arrived with little or nothing.

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

Among the work that local resettlement groups have undertaken is helping find housing for refugees and helping them become independent within the first year. Upon arriving at their new home, being treated to culturally appropriate food provided 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 Americans from today have similar family histories, but generations earlier.

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

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

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

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