More than 100 evacuees arrived in Chicago Thursday, leaving Taliban-ruled Kabul, Afghanistan and being reunited with family and loved ones.
Project Dynamo, a civilian-run and donor-funded organization, has led the force in bringing evacuees to the U.S. since President Joe Biden announced the military would leave Afghanistan.
"Everyone bet against us. So it's just a sense of accomplishment -- the best thing I ever did, the best work I've ever done," co-founder of Project Dynamo Brian Stern said.
Stern explained that evacuees were surrounded by Taliban while attempting to leave the country, but successfully traveled by airplane from Abu Dhabi to the U.S.
Project Dynamo's Jen Wilson met evacuee Nejiba Hassani for the first time Thursday, after helping her escape Afghanistan to return to her family in Seattle, Washington. Hassani had to leave some family in Afghanistan, however.
"I couldn't get all of her family out. They don't all have the documents to be able to move," Wilson said. "So it's been a long, hard, painful, heartbreaking experience and she's here."
"I am very happy. I am very happy," Hassani said. "I am safe in here. I can't believe it right now, I am here."
In an effort to help evacuee families, Timeless Toys in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood has been asking customers for toy donations, which the store says will be delivered to Afghan children in camps across the U.S.
Over the last month, Timeless Toys has collected over $11,000-worth of toys. The store says it will match that number with an additional $11,000 donation.
“Every day in the store at Timeless Toys, I see the joy a toy can bring a child,” Timless Toys owner Scott Friedland said. “We are trying to bring some of that joy to the kids at Camp Atterbury and other camps across the country.”
Friedland said the store is providing gifts to Afghan refugee families through Operation Allies Refuge, which provides housing, job support, education and medical services to evacuees.
Thursday is the last day to give a monetary donation, though toy donations will be accepted through Oct. 31.
The last U.S. forces flew out of Kabul’s airport in late August, ending America’s longest war following an airlift of Afghans, Americans and others escaping a country once again ruled by the Taliban.