A Sixth former reports back to school on his weekend volunteering thoughts
The Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais welcomes all volunteers aged 16 and over. The Come2calais scheme from Bath is happy to take 16-18 year olds on the weekend volunteering trips if they are accompanied by an adult.
A few different organisations work out of the warehouse (for example Help Refugees, Refugee Women’s Centre, Refugee Community Kitchen and Utopia 56). At any given time there are a large number of people working there, they’re either volunteers, part time or full time workers. Everyday jobs are assigned to people, and people will split off into groups to do those jobs. In the kitchen, one group will prepare food and in the warehouse a group will sort out non-food items, and another group will distribute these items to refugees in the Calais area.
The kitchen produces over a thousand meals a day. People could be washing or chopping vegetables, making sauces, stirring boiling pots of food, washing up or making up massive vats of tea. It’s a really busy place with lots of people working together, and they had a Spotify playlist that people could add their own music to, which was really cool.
Non-food items aren’t just clothes, they include bedding, tents, hygiene products and children’s items. Lining up the warehouse are humongous shelves crammed with donations. These items will have to be sorted out into their correct categories and then inventoried, so the distributing team can get the correct items to give out. Tents need to be checked if they have holes or are dirty and if they have all their parts. Clothing is sorted into specific categories like size and how thick they are and style, so that the refugees can receive appropriate clothing for the situation. The Help for Calais website has a needs list that is updated every week because there are specific items that the warehouse needs depending on it’s stock or the changing weather. For example, winter is coming so scarves, jumpers and gloves will be needed more than shorts. But the warehouse is always looking for sleeping bags, warm blankets, men’s underwear and socks and tents.
Julia is the warehouse manager. Her job is directing the warehouse to meet the immediate and long term needs of refugee communities they help. She spends a lot of her time sorting through donations and deciding what donations are suitable or not, and unfortunately a lot of inappropriate items are being donated. People consider donating clothes to a refugee charity as getting rid of clothes they don’t want anymore. Which is fine unless those items are damaged. A lot of times, items like tents and shoes that are donated are just unusable and broken, and clothes might have holes in them or are stained. These items end up being thrown away if they can’t be repaired.
It would really help if people thought critically about donating items to refugees, because these are things you are giving to a vulnerable and marginalized group of people, and if you donate trash to them, it reflects how you think about them and it’s not going to help them. A criteria Julia uses to determine if something is appropriate for donating, is to ask yourself if you would give this to a good friend, because you are passing on your clothes to keep someone warm and make them feel dignified. It would be great if you have items that you think you could donate and apply that criteria to.