We're all aware, surely by now, that there's a huge humanitarian crisis going on. Whatever your political views on this, there are human beings cold and hungry and people are suffering.
There's been a huge surge in support and kind donations from all over Britain, particularly to the refugee camps in and around Calais, which is understandable given its close proximity to us.
Sadly the donation centres in the UK and the volunteers on the ground in France are suffering from a massive storage problem right now. That's not to say that they have enough supplies - there are around 3,000 refugees in the Calais camp so keeping them fed is a gargantuan task. No, they have a storage problem because some of the donations they've received are unsuitable.
This is a very delicate issue, and whilst nobody wants to put people off helping or sound ungrateful in any way, a better understanding and a thoughtful approach will help everyone - you the giver; the hungry refugee the receiver; and the volunteers coordinating and distributing.
This is what I've learnt from spending hours and hours reading information and communicating with volunteers at collection points and in Calais. I thought it might be useful to pass it on.
Life in The Jungle is very tough. It's not a summer camping trip. These people are living in makeshift shelters. They are regularly flooded out. They have limited access to clean water. They have no electricity apart from the occasional part-time generators that come into camp. Food is cooked on open fires - if they're lucky enough to be able to get hold of any dry wood. They have travelled hundred and thousands of miles, only able to bring what they can carry on their backs. They don't have the luxury of a full set of camping gear, tin openers and a calor gas stove. Think how frustrating it must be to queue for hours, hungry because you haven't eaten for 24 hours, to receive a small bag of food, only to find you can't open the tins without having to beg and borrow a tin opener from someone else first.
|Image with permission by Dibs Photography. Please see http://dibsphotography.com/helping-out-in-calais-september-2015/ for further|
To put it simply, a Pop Tart is no use in The Jungle. Nor is a microwave packet.
This graphic (courtesy of Katherine Tuck) shows simply, the best type of food to donate and is an excellent guide to use if you're organising local collections or putting together food parcels. It has been put together with input from experienced volunteers on the ground, and the camp residents themselves. There are good reasons behind each of these items.
If you're going to the trouble of collecting food, I can't stress this enough - please, please, please send these types of items. They'll be hugely appreciated.
What I hadn't realised, is that most of the food is distributed on a daily basis in individual food parcels. The food you donate is not likely to go to a central kitchen to feed masses of people, so huge catering sized bags of rice are not ideal. It's far better to give smaller packets, or portion up large bags into smaller bags/boxes.
Please remember there is a huge mixed community in the camp with many nationalities and religions. To respect that, they ask for no pork meat, and actually there are many vegetarians in the camp so sending tinned vegetables, beans and pulses is better. Tinned fish is very much welcomed though.
Try to get ring pull cans, so they can be opened easily.
Food that needs little or no cooking is best. Rice is a staple, but it takes a long time to cook, requires a pan, water and a fire, so it's great to provide other foods which can be eaten straight away. Dried pulses are not good because they need pre-soaking and a long cooking time. Pasta is not ideal as it requires getting and keeping the water hot for too long. It's very difficult to cook on a fire and besides, it's not a familiar food to many of these nationalities. Isn't it nicer to give food that they know and like? While we're on the subject... baked beans. Collection points have been inundated with baked beans. They already have a lot of them. But when you think about it, it's a peculiarly British love. They deserve a bit of variety - but not the 57 kind. Even our own food banks in the UK are starting to put out pleas for no more baked beans.
Spices, stock cubes, salt, onions and garlic are all very welcome to help make bland food a bit more palatable. Bear in mind though that if you're donating in the UK food might be moved from various storage warehouses before being shipped over so fresh onions and garlic are not ideal unless they're going to be sent straight over.
Make sure the food is in date. Sounds obvious I know, but please make sure it has a reasonably long shelf life left on it. Whatever your own feelings about best before dates (I'm a huge believer in the sniff-it-and-see method at home), please be thoughtful. If you were in an unsanitary camp, eating unfamiliar food, labelled in a language you couldn't read, with limited access to medical treatment and no clean toilets would you want to risk eating out of date food? No I don't think so.
Baby formula is a big no-no. As in any humanitarian crisis, the health authorities warn against it. There is no guarantee the milk could be made up safely and no access to sterilised bottles. And besides which, there are very few babies in the camps in France anyway.
The main aim of those distributing the food, is to ensure that everyone gets a regular supply of healthy and nutritious food. So no to bags of crisps, and yes to dried fruit. No to Pot Noodles, yes to tinned mackerel.
|Image courtesy of Dibs McCallum Photography|
If you'd like to make donations or arrange a collection locally, in your workplace or school, then please find your nearest collection point here. If you're planning to take donations across yourself, then make contact with a local organisation in France BEFORE you go. The best place for information is the Calais People to People Solidarity Action Group. Check the pinned post at the top for all the contact information on the ground and advice about organising a convoy.
Remember, the situation is very fluid, the needs are changing daily. The Facebook Group is constantly updated with feedback from the camp about what's needed urgently. At the moment it's food, firewood and shelter building materials.
All this advice has come from people on the ground. I hope you find it useful and it helps you plan your donations more effectively. Thank you for your support.
All images used with permission. For more information, read http://dibsphotography.com/helping-out-in-calais-september-2015/