Highlevel Diner waitress Jessica Bulger and owner Kim Franklin are helping to raise money to sponsor Syrian refugees.


Highlevel Diner waitress Jessica Bulger and owner Kim Franklin are helping to raise money to sponsor Syrian refugees.

November 23, 2015

Running a popular Edmonton diner, Kim Franklin sees a lot of faces and knows a lot of people in the city.

But community to Franklin stretches well beyond the city limits.

"I think of the community as more than just the people that I can see with my own eyes," she said.

That's why, eight months ago, news footage of a group of Syrians stuck on the side of a mountain after being driven away from their own homes, caught her attention.

Franklin felt she had to do something to help them. But at that time, she could not find anybody working on the issue.

Then she saw a picture of the body of a little boy, swept ashore as his family, in an attempt to escape war-torn Syria, tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Tortured by the image, Franklin and one of her partners at the diner decided to start a group to help refugees.

It was like divine providence followed.

The next day, a neighbour came to ask Franklin if she would put up a poster for an upcoming event at St. Joseph's College. A refugee sponsorship group had already been started there.

"It kind of answered my question of where to go next," said Franklin.

At the event, Franklin met Father Glenn McDonald of St. Joseph's College Chapel - one of several communities in the Edmonton Archdiocese sponsoring Syrian refugees.

Franklin's group, called Bayt Al' Amal, Arabic for House of Hope, is now one of three committees, each seeking to sponsor a family through the college chapel.

It has already raised $20,000 of the $35-40,000 that could be needed to support a refugee family for a year.


Much of that was raised through a one-day fundraiser at Highlevel Diner in October, when the staff donated their tips to help sponsor the Syrian family.

Jessica Bulger, a waiter at the diner, said she was on board right away when Franklin approached the staff with her idea for the fundraiser. Customers that day tipped and donated graciously.

Despite debate about welcoming Syrian refugees into the country, Bulger said she is glad she is part of the effort to get at least one family to a safe place. "To me, it kind of goes against what it is to be Canadian to refuse them help."

The diner's involvement has not been without some backlash.

"Today a guy said he was boycotting the restaurant unless we were going to feed the 2,300 homeless people in Edmonton first," said Franklin. "I get this, but I don't let it really bother me. We do a lot of things for Edmonton as well."

Franklin encourages others to think of the world as one. "We all breathe the same air, the water flows, the air blows and, in my mind, we're all connected."

Staff at the diner have been involved in refugee initiatives in the past, but Franklin believes the backlash this time is rooted in fear.

"There's this whole fear of ISIS, that there's a potential of terrorists (coming in) and I had to wrestle with that too," she said. "But you have to let your humanity supersede your fear."

McDonald said working with the group has been inspiring.

"They're very organized, they're very enthusiastic and it's a wonderful project of good will and outreach that shows the Catholic Church at its best," he said.

McDonald said the refugee sponsorship process is what will eventually keep Canada and other countries safe, because it gives people a future and hope for their lives, keeping them from radicalization.

"One of the best ways we can prevent the radicalization of people is to show them dignity, respect and give them a new home," he said.

The refugees sponsored through the archdiocese are selected from a federal government list of refugees.

Paulette Johnson, refugee sponsorship co-ordinator for Catholic Social Services, said it is wonderful to see how many Canadians want to help. But trying to secure a family from the government lists has been frustrating.

"There's such an incredible interest across the country that these just get snatched up so fast," Johnson said.

Until the new government came in, there was a lack of sufficient resources overseas to do the processing, she said.


The new government, however, has assured groups such as churches, that have agreements under the private sponsorship of refugees program, that it will focus on bringing in up to 25,000 refugees in 2015, said Johnson.

This year, 112 refugee sponsorship cases involving 267 people have been submitted through the archdiocese.

Bayt Al' Amal is still accepting donations toward its refugee sponsorship efforts at Highlevel Diner, St. Joseph's College Chapel and online.