April 16, 2021
North Duke Street in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania, smells like dessert. The scent comes from a shop that sells stroopies. These are cinnamon waffle-sandwich cookies with a caramel center.
The cookies are also known as stroopwafels. Workers at the shop bake about 10,000 of them each week. Co-owner Jennie Groff is proud of her product. But the thing she’s most excited about, she told TIME for Kids, “is that we provide meaningful employment to refugee women who call Lancaster their new home.”
The Lancaster Stroopie Company has two main goals. One is to make delicious cookies. The other is to make a difference in the lives of refugee women and children. “It can be kind of lonely when you’re in a new place,” Groff says. “Even though the women are from different parts of the world, there’s just this community that’s developed at work, which is really beautiful.”
Coming to America
Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their country. This can be due to war or fear of persecution . There are about 26 million refugees worldwide. About half are under 18.
Anne-Marie Gray is executive director of the group USA for UNHCR. It helps the United Nations refugee agency. “These are people that don’t choose to flee,” she says of refugees. “They have to flee, often for their lives or safety.”
Currently, the government allows up to 15,000 refugees to resettle and work in the U.S. President Joe Biden says he’d like to increase that number to 62,500 for this year. Refugees must apply for entry into the U.S. Applications are reviewed by the government. The screening process can last two years. If approved, a refugee might settle in Lancaster.
Danene Sorace is the city’s mayor (see “A Welcoming City”). She says moving to a new country can be tough. “What [Groff] is doing is providing a runway for families to be successful and thrive.”
New Friends and Neighbors
Mary Myint is from Myanmar. That’s a country in Asia. Myint felt unsafe as a Christian in Myanmar. She and her family resettled in Lancaster. That was in 2013. “I love Lancaster,” she says. But there were challenges. “The hardest part was that I couldn’t speak English,” she says. Myint also needed a job. She got one at the Lancaster Stroopie Company. It offers English classes.
Today, Groff employs nine refugee women. They come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Nepal, and Syria. “As they come and bring their gifts and talents, our lives are enriched ,” she says.
A Welcoming City
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has long been a welcoming place. “It’s just part of [our] DNA,” Jennie Groff says. In the 1700s, Amish and Mennonite people settled near Lancaster. They could freely practice their religion in the area. They’re still an important part of the community.
In recent years, the city of Lancaster has welcomed legal immigrants and refugees. “We care about their success,” mayor Danene Sorace says. “Their success is our success.”