Volunteers are desperately needed to help pack a “mountain” of warm clothes, blankets and supplies heading from Leeds to refugees living in the mountains of Northern Iraq.
The Leeds2Iraq appeal has been co-ordinated by Lydia Mitton and her husband Chris, curate at St Luke’s Church in Holbeck, which is now piled high with aid donated by generous people across the city.
Mrs Mitton, who has a background in international development, was inspired by a blog written by Samara Levy, who set up the national charity Samara’s Aid Appeal last year.
Moved by the plight of more than 3.2m people who have been displaced in Northern Iraq since January 2014, Mrs Mitton began hastily collecting winter clothes and supplies from donors across Leeds in January.
Within three weeks, 7.5 tonnes of aid had been collected.
With winter once again setting in, and millions of people needing help, the appeal began collecting again last month and looks to double January’s efforts.
Now, with less than a week to go to sort and re-pack thousands of bags full of warm clothes, shoes, blankets and toiletries, Leeds2Iraq is desperately in need of more volunteers and funds in its final push.
Temperatures in Northern Iraq drop as low as minus 20C, and many of the most vulnerable have only one set of clothes - the ones they fled in.
Mrs Mitton, 34, of Beeston, said: “I had been so distressed at what I was reading about, I wanted to see what I could do help. The response has been outstanding.
“People have prioritised giving their best and wanted to give up their favourite things. We have until Wednesday to get everything packed up - and we have quite a mountain to get through.”
Groups from across the city and beyond have been collecting, with all the aid being dropped off at St Luke’s ready to be sorted by an army of volunteers.
The shipment to Iraq is set to leave the city at the weekend, but Leeds2Iraq has been so successful they are hoping to raise around £4,500 to send a second container of donations to Syria.
Mrs Mitton said: “It’s been really hard work but we’ve been shocked at how people can’t get enough of it and want to do more. Parents have brought their children along in the evenings to help pack boxes.
“Every night I’ll say it’s time to lock up, and people will shout ‘let’s just do one more hour’. We’ve even had local musicians come along to play to keep people entertained while they work.”
The appeal is also still collecting donations, and have lists of specific items needed for care packs aimed at families, expectant mothers and babies.
Mrs Mitton’s husband, Rev Chris Mitton said they had been “moved and inspired” by the generosity of the response.
“By the end of day two’s collecting we hit the rafters - and the pile of clothes is still growing,” he said.
“From primary school kids bringing their Ronaldo boots, to sixth formers mobilising their school, to churches, community groups, political groups - this has been an incredible community effort. It’s an act of love that is bringing life and dignity to people who have suffered unimaginable horrors.
“We feel so proud to be able to send it as a gift from the city of Leeds - and beyond.”
Anyone who can donate cash or time to the appeal can get in touch via the group’s Facebook page.
Lists with items needed in care packs can also be found there.