As you may be aware, a number of Emmaus Lambeth and Surrey shops are drop-off points for donations for Help Refugees and we make a monthly day trip to Calais to deliver these.
Every few months we organise a longer trip and stay for a few days, volunteering in the Help Refugees warehouse or with Refugee Community Kitchen preparing food and distributing it to those in need. In May last year our party visited our international cousins at Emmaus Dunkirk who invited us back to stay with them and help with their own food distribution. (You can read that story here.)
Our latest three-day trip was in December, and was co-ordinated with some Mitzvah Day volunteers. For those who don’t know, Mitzvah Day is a day of social action which takes place in November each year: it’s led by the Jewish community, but also involves partnerships with other faith groups, and people of no faith. For two years Emmaus Lambeth and Surrey has been involved with this initiative, collecting donations for both rough sleepers in London, and for refugees in Calais. Our Administration Assistant, Evie, went on this trip and tells us her story:
“On Friday 13th December I had my morning coffee and left London early in order to get to Emmaus Dunkirk on time: Sylvie, who has been running the community for two decades, asked us to get there by 1:30 for their food distribution to Northern France refugees. While I and other two volunteers were waiting for the ferry to leave, our CEO, our Finance Director and another volunteer successfully delivered the donations to the new Help Refugees warehouse in Calais.
We got to Emmaus Dunkirk just in time to meet Sylvie and the companions before leaving almost immediately for their big food distribution.
Around 450 homeless refugees, mostly young men but some families with children too, were waiting for us to serve them food. You could see the hunger and despair of these people who do not really know where their next meal will come from.
Then we went into the woods to drop off food to some refugees living in the forest. They wanted to thank us for this so we spent more than an hour trying to light a fire and then bringing a big pan of water to the boil. They added tea and plenty of sugar and milk and were incredibly happy because we stayed to drink it with them. I was absolutely freezing, and one of Emmaus Dunkirk’s companions gave me his gloves. It broke my heart just thinking that people are actually living and sleeping in those conditions.
When we left them we went to an abandoned industrial estate where the owner had smashed the walls of the buildings to discourage the refugees. Around 600 people, including some of the families we fed in the morning, were sleeping there. Then we headed back to Emmaus Dunkirk where we had been offered accommodation for the two nights.
On Saturday morning, after having breakfast at the community and spending some time with the companions, trying to communicate in very bad French, we headed to Calais to volunteer for the morning. Two of the volunteers from our group went to bag firewood in the wood yard – 520 bags of wood are delivered every two days to the refugees – while the other two volunteers and I worked in the kitchen, spinning salads and drying up crockery. Refugee Community Kitchen cooks 1,500 dinners daily for distribution in Calais and Dunkirk.
After enjoying a delicious and nourishing vegan curry with other volunteers from all around the world, we returned to Emmaus Dunkirk to volunteer for the afternoon at their big superstore and get the chance to talk to the companions one more time.
After this experience, difficult yet amazing, I’m looking forward to going back again, certain that we will always continue to do what we do best: helping those who need it most, the best way we can.”
Donations are always needed: you can find the current requirements here and drop them off at one of our shops in Lambeth or Surrey: