Food banks in Sheffield have received a bumper food donation from a very surprising source – refugee camps in Calais.
When Fran Belbin drove supplies to refugees in Calais, she little expected to bring food back for people in her own city.
But because so many inappropriate supplies have been sent to the camp – dubbed ‘The Jungle’ – Fran said there is around 40 vans-worth of food that will never get eaten.
The mum-of-two revealed there is a ‘mountain’ of clothing which will never be worn by refugees either.
“I was shocked just how many inappropriate supplies, both food and clothing, had been donated,” said Fran, of Burngreave, who travelled to France last week.
“It made me really sad that people had gone to the trouble of driving food down to help refugees, only for it to be sent back.
“Of course, people mean well, but it is really important that anyone planning to take donations knows exactly what to bring.
“It’s a waste of time for them to bring some of it and creates more wo rk at the warehouses where the supplies are kept.”
She added: “Nobody wants to see food wasted – everyone wants it to go where it is most needed.
“That’s why I brought back with me a ton – literally – of food that the refugee charity have donated back to food banks in Sheffield.”
Fran said that anything in glass jars cannot be accepted because waste disposal is limited and broken glass would become a problem on the camp.
“There’s a big problem with waste on the site,” she said. “There’s often big piles of litter scattered about and people will end up cutting themselves on it.”
She said that water is in short supply – as is power to boil it up – so pasta and noodles are not required at the camps either.
Fran, aged 50, said that food containing pork is not accepted as it is against the religion of most refugees to eat it.
She said: “Then there were ridiculous items like high heel shoes donated.”
Fran said her experience at the refugee camps was a mixed one.
“In some ways, it’s amazing how much infrastructure has been built at the camps,” she said.
“The refugees work extremely hard and always seem to be smiling too.
“Despite the hardship, they stay positive.”
She added: “We chatted to various refugees.
“Whenever we told them we were from the UK, we got smiles, handshakes and questions for David Cameron.
“There is a fond illusion among many refugees that Cameron is a reasonable man who must surely see that the border is ridiculous.
“We didn’t want to destroy their hope and made promises to keep fighting for their right to join their families in the UK.”
As there has been limited support from major aid agencies and the French and UK governments, the response of grassroots organisations and volunteers to the crisis has had a very positive impact on conditions.
Volunteers from the UK and around the world are providing clothes, tents, hot meals and English lessons.
Volunteers have even built a play centre for children, a library and a refugee advice centre
Fran said she is planning to make another trip – which will be her third – next month.
- Fran donated her van full of supplies to Rachel, at Burngreave Food Bank, who said the bounty would be shared between other banks across the city.
To read about Fran’s efforts to help refugees, visit her blog: pitsmoorcalais.wordpress.com
HIGH PRIORITY ITEMS NEEDED: warm, waterproof winter jackets; men’s jogging bottoms or jeans size 28-36 waist; socks and underpants; hats, gloves and scarves; camp beds; tarpaulins; sleeping bags.
LESSER PRIORITY ITEMS NEEDED: tents; roll-mats; blankets; toiletries and toiletry packs; coking pots, utensils, cups, mugs, plates, bowls, cutlery; unlocked mobile phones with chargers; mobile phone external batteries; rucksacks; hot water bottles; anti-bacterial hand wash; waterproof trousers; umbrellas.
The list of items was sent to us by charity Calaid. To find out more visit www.calaid.co.uk