The people of Leeds have been rallying to the aid of the tens of thousands of refugees stranded across Europe in what has been described as a “phenomenal” response over the past few days.
Within hours of drop-off points being set up across the city, mountains of clothes, food, toys and toiletries had already been donated as residents clamoured to show their support to those fleeing war.
The scale of generosity shown across the city has left organisers stunned as they try to keep pace with the fast flow of visitors and goods.
One drop-off point - set up by resident Zoe King at her house in Chapeltown - was yesterday forced to suspend donations for a couple of days due to the sheer volume of aid delivered.
She said: “I’ve just been blown away by people’s kindness and generosity, and their love and compassion - just wanting to be human and help other humans.
“I didn’t expect it to be this big at all. In two days, we’ve collected what I’d hoped to collect over months. We now just need some time to distribute - and stop to breathe!
“We’ll be up again by the end of the week.”
Another group of volunteers has set up The Calais Aid Network Leeds, to try and co-ordinate the swell of goodwill across the city, and launched the website ‘www.yorkshireaid.org’ to encourage the region to get involved.
Tomorrow, four members of the group will travel to Calais to gain first-hand experience of the refugee camps and report back what is needed.
Ifty Patel, founder of The People’s Street Kitchen, a not-for-profit, volunteer-led organisation in Leeds, set up the network and opened a city centre drop-off at Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel at City Square on Sunday.
He said: “We filled a quarter of a van with just three people’s donations. The people who I’ve met have been incredible. I think we are only at the tip of the iceberg of Leeds. When people realise what they can do.
“I’ve been overwhelmed - overwhelmed with people’s generosity and their desire to help. Especially at a time when there is austerity. It’s amazing to see that people are still giving.”
Ifty and his group will be distributing some of the essential supplies already donated to the Calais camps on Wednesday but appealed for more donations.
He said: “There are up to 4,000 people living in squalid conditions, mostly men but also women and young children and some with serious medical requirements. More arrive each day, having survived perilous journeys of hundreds of miles, fleeing persecution and war torn countries like Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Syria. Many arrive desperately hungry, in need of urgent medical attention and without basic necessities such as warm clothing or even shoes. We’re urging the people of Leeds to help us to help them.”
Another drop-off point has been set up at St James Woodside Church in Horsforth by Rev Richard Dimery.
He said: “It’s been phenomenal. We had our first drop off for donations on Sunday and within an hour we had enough to fill a small transit van.
“It shows the intrinsic generosity, which we know from Horsforth people obviously, but it’s been really encouraging to see how ready people are to say ‘I’ll come straight away’, ‘I have a car-ful’, or ‘I have a couple of bags’.”
HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP
Search on Facebook for ‘Chapeltown Calais Collection Point’, ‘Horsforth, Calais and beyond’, ‘Calais Aid Network Leeds’.
To donate cash to Calais Aid Network Leeds’ efforts: https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/rick-melling
Items that are needed, according to Calais Aid Network Leeds:
Soap; toothpaste and toothbrushes; bin bags; plastic bags; plastic bins; hand sanitiser; wet wipes; razors; deodorant; first aid kits/plasters; tinned food; other non-perishable food (avoid donating lots of pasta); tin openers; flour; oil; onions and garlic; salt, pepper, spices, tomato sauce and paste, lemon juice; water (bottles with taps are always useful); coffee; tea; sugar; milk (long-life); sponges, dish soap; pans, pots, grills; cooking utensils; cups, mugs, plates, bowls, cutlery; fire extinguishers; LED wind up torches; umbrellas; tools, including hammers; wood (for construction and firewood); duct tape; books (different languages), including multi-lingual dictionaries; footballs, tennis sets, bats and balls; radios (and batteries) or wind up radios; playing cards, card games, board games, dominoes, pens, notebooks, paper; art materials; bicycles (for helping Calais Migrant Solidarity’s activists and improve the migrant’s moving capacity); bicycle paraphernalia including pumps, lights, locks, repair kits; men’s clothes including men’s underwear, socks, sweatshirts, jackets, trousers; men’s shoes - sizes 6 to 11 (trainers or walking); blankets; sleeping bags; tents; backpacks.