Note: I am writing this while still VERY tired so sincere apologies for typos, omissions etc…
I am still struggling to believe that it actually happened.
I keep having to remind myself that we managed to pull this off.
From a single post on Facebook just before 11pm on 3rd September, Erskine to Calais has succeeded in taking two full vans of items needed to help those currently staying in the refugee camp in Calais (known to many as ‘The Jungle’).
Like so many people, that single photo of young Aylan Kurdi, lying dead off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey after a boat carrying refugees sank while heading for the Greek island of Kos, broke me inside. I sat staring at the screen of my laptop and something snapped. I truly felt useless.
I opened new tabs in my browser and looked up flights for Easyjet and Ryanair to Germany and Bucharest thinking that I could take a rucksack of things, leave them behind and fly home.
But then I had to give myself a shake…
It was a nice thought, but with a full diary, a hectic family life and a Parish, it just wasn’t going to happen.
I felt useless again.
I felt useless all day. My body felt heavy and my eyes stung.
That same evening, somebody asked if we could take in donations of clothing for Calais.
We could do that…
So, I went online and discovered CalAid, who had a list.
Then came the questions in my head…
‘Where would we store it?’
‘How long would we be able to keep it?’
‘What would we do with it when we were overflowing with donations?!’
And so, at 10:50pm that night, I made a decision. I’ll take it myself. And I pressed the ‘Post’ button on the Facebook page…
Over 25,000 have viewed that single post to date.
From support, to questions, to xenophobia, hours of typing and occasional sighing resulted in a campaign that caught the attention of Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Glasgow as donations of items and money began to pour in.
We opened the doors of Erskine Parish Church on Tuesday 8th September at 9:30am with donations already lying on the steps outside.
Just 8 days later, we had filled an entire room to the ceiling (these photos were taken last Monday), filled over 100 bags of items that were not on the list (which have since gone to Cash4Clothes and generated £140), and raised several thousand pounds in financial support!
I would like at this time to thank Anne, Caroline and Jean for all of their hard work in sorting, boxing, tidying etc as well as Aileen for taking carloads of items to various charity shops as the room filled up at a rapid rate of knots!
Thanks to Norman and Sheila Baird, we were also given two vans from A.K. Rental free of charge! It has been wonderful to work with our neighbours and friends in Erskine Church of the Nazarene. Your support and prayers have been much appreciated!
Soon after starting our drop off point, Erskine Baptist Church dropped off carloads of items, which they had in stock at their Thrift Shop, for which we are also truly thankful.
With Norman and Sheila driving one van, I drove the other with Rev. David Burt, Minister of Old Gourock and Ashton Parish Church (I said he could choose the music!).
With the help of the Brigaders of 1st Erskine Girls’ Brigade and some volunteers from Erskine, we loaded both vans on Wednesday night in order that we could leave early on Thursday morning.
We left our respective homes at 6:30am with dry roads and droopy eyes and met for breakfast in Tebay Services.
We arrived in time for tea (hurrah!) after 533 miles of driving and just one tank of diesel used by each van. After a walk along the shore, we ate together before getting some much needed sleep before heading to Calais the following morning.
Our aim was to catch the 6:40am ferry to allow for a whole day in Calais. The plan was for us to empty the vans at the new warehouse for L’Auberge des Migrants and then go to prepare food supplies for the regular distribution at 2pm before preparing to head back in time for the 17:15 ferry back to Dover.
Unfortunately, we were associated with a unexpectedly large convoy of vans and placed in a long queue, which delayed our departure until 8:25am. As a result of this, we reached the warehouse just before noon (local time) in time to empty the vans and help sort items out in the warehouse for the day.
On one hand, I was really disappointed that we did not get time to go to ‘The Jungle’ and spend time with those staying there, but on the other, I think it would have been VERY difficult (emotionally) to leave, having only being there for such a short time.
Having only signed the lease on Tuesday, the warehouse was already ¾ full by the time we offloaded late on Friday morning. With about a dozen volunteers spanning ages, countries of origin and faiths, we worked together to try and make some sense of the avalanche of donations before us.
I spent the day in ‘Trouser Town’, where I became very good at identifying waist sizes from just holding up against mine and briefly lamenting at I would have once fitted them before folding them and boxing them up!
It soon became apparent that a number of the items donated from across Europe were not going to be of any use at the camp. With very few women and children and a warehouse that was reaching capacity, we decided as a group to take what we could back to Scotland. Following a phone call to Cash4Clothes, they kindly agreed to allow us to go straight to their warehouse upon our return on Saturday.
(In the end, we took 1.6 tonnes of clothing and shoes with us, which generated another £846!)
With an overnight stop just off the M6 Toll Road, four very tired people returned to Paisley, Erskine and Gourock on Saturday afternoon after 1100 miles of driving in under 3 days.
Returning back to a full church on Sunday for a baptism was a wonderful experience. I don’t quite know if the sermon made any sense as I was struggling to string sentences together by the end of it… 🙂
So, what have I learned from this?
* If people want to make donations, then they need to prepared to hold onto them for quite some time. Calais cannot cope with the amount of aid pouring in at the moment. (L’Auberge des Migrants kindly agreed to our drop because we contacted them in advance and offered to stay to help put it away!) Storing them in churches is not the answer as space and halls are always needed. If finances/support allowed, a warehouse to store items until the end of the year would allow for donations of necessary items to continue.
* Money and volunteers in Calais are urgently needed. If people were able to go over for at least 3 days, then the amount of sorting and distribution you could achieve in that time would be greatly appreciated.
* DO NOT TRY AND GO OVER WITHOUT MAKING CONTACT WITH A GROUP THAT ARE ALREADY ON THE GROUND.
Distributions MUST be coordinated, even and fair to prevent chaos in what was a very calm camp on Friday.
* If I could go back tomorrow and give of my time I would, but at present I cannot. But this is not going to change overnight…
* There is talk of another camp starting to develop in Dunkerque which currently has no sanitation etc. This is not being talked about in the press at the moment with attention being focussed on attempts to cross into the UK by the Channel Tunnel. This means that more people and support will be needed, but until things are made official, it is not wise to act.
* There are refugees in Scotland that also need our support. If you were intending on giving donations to support the work in Calais, they have asked for people to NOT forget about those on our own doorstep as well not to mention the numerous homeless people who are about to endure the cold of winter. We delivered about 25 holdalls of toiletries to Glasgow City Mission before leaving as Calais had already received too many! It is important that we do not forget those near to us who we can reach out to and support.
I am really glad that we did this trip and I hope that our findings have been helpful as people make sense of what is happening across the water and are still working out what they can do to help.
Allow me to finish this by thanking everyone who has supported Erskine to Calais with items, money, prayers, time and energy.
I will keep you updated as things develop.
It has been wonderful to see the community of Erskine take this initiative to their heart!
A number of church congregations have supported our work with donations of items and money including (in alphabetical order) :
Ayr: St. Columba’s, Bearsden Cross, Bearsden: New Kilpatrick, Erskine Baptist Church, Erskine Church of the Nazarene, Erskine Parish Church, Greenock: St. Margaret’s, Hamilton: Trinity, Kilbarchan Kirks (in collaboration with LEAP), Lanark: Greyfriars, Neilston, Paisley: St. Fergus’ Church and Sherwood Greenlaw Parish Church, as well as members of other congregations who have been involved at on a personal level. (Apologies if I have missed anyone!)
We were also supported by Mary Fee, MSP and Cllr. Paul O’Kane.
Many thanks to you both for your time and support!