Herts Advertiser join St Albans for Refugees to help drop off third load of donations in Calais

Reporter Sophie Crockett joined St Alband For Refugees (StAR) on their trip to drop off the donations

Reporter Sophie Crockett joined St Alband For Refugees (StAR) on their trip to drop off the donations

Archant

Volunteers travelled to Calais with enough donations to feed the refugee camp for three days, according to a long-term supporter at the donation warehouse.

St Albans For Refugees (StAR), a non-profit organisation run by a group of volunteers, made its third visit to a Calais on Saturday (6) accompanied by reporter Sophie Crockett.

The organisation has managed to collect garage-loads of clothes and blankets and fundraise thousands in the five months it’s been running, and made the trip with a van full of food for the refugee camp in Calais.

But what is now an organisation heading for official charity status, originally started out with a simple post on social media.

Liz Needham, co-founder of StAR, said: “What I was planning, in response to a Facebook post, was to put some stuff in the back of my car and drive it to a collection point in Watford. That was my plan.

StAR trustees Liz Needham (left) and Debbie Playford (right)StAR trustees Liz Needham (left) and Debbie Playford (right)

“I asked if anybody else on Facebook wanted to put stuff in the back of my car and another subsequent trustee Farhat Zia got in touch with me and said ‘Well what are we doing in St Albans?’ and that’s when we decided we were doing something in St Albans.

“Twenty four hours later we had a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a PayPal account, and 72 hours later we had had our first meeting and it all just blew up.”

The latest fundraising drive raised more than £1,700, and StAR, who have recently been nominated for a Mayor’s Pride Award, continue to fundraise for further vital trips.

Liz recalled StAR’s initial trip to Calais: “The first going over was definitely strange. I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting ourselves into and certainly when we all went to visit the camp that time it was a real eye opener.

A BOB fm reporter helps to sort onions and garlic with StAR trustee Liz Needham (right)A BOB fm reporter helps to sort onions and garlic with StAR trustee Liz Needham (right)

“We knew conditions were bad but it’s not until you’re actually wandering around in the conditions you can get an appreciation of how bad they actually are.”

StAR invited the Herts Advertiser along for a second time to document where the donated money goes.

THE TRIP

Long-term volunteer Barry told The Herts Advertiser that the food brought over by StAR was really appropriateLong-term volunteer Barry told The Herts Advertiser that the food brought over by StAR was really appropriate

7am on a wet and windy Saturday, I met StAR volunteers to help load crates of food bought with money donated by St Albans residents into the van.

The impressive haul included 360kg of basmati rice, 300ltrs of vegetable oil, 600 tins of tuna, 3,220 teabags and £500 of fresh fruit and vegetables among other items all collected from Morrisons the day before. (Liz was quick to credit the supermarket for their help and the £300 discount they gave on the order.)

Former Herts Ad reporter Taylor Geall joined the team with his dad, Graham, who donated a van for the trip, and we were soon on our way to the Channel Tunnel.

Bitter winds greeted us in Calais, and having previously visited the warehouse and camp with StAR back in November, I could only think about how the St Albans donations were more important than ever.

£500 of fresh fruit and vegetables were part of the load brought over by StAR£500 of fresh fruit and vegetables were part of the load brought over by StAR

Walking into the warehouse for a second time was an entirely different experience from the first.

Where once was a tower of black bin bags, a half-constructed kitchen, and a small supermarket-style collection of donated food, now was an operation three times the size, fitted out with shelves and a fully operational kitchen.

In a short two months the warehouse had transformed. It was bustling with even more enthusiastic volunteers, keeping the cycle of donations organised and producing food parcels and hot meals for the camp every day.

One long-term volunteer, Barry Fallon, has been living on the camp for a month after giving up his job as a teacher, and mans the incoming food donations.

He said: “My job is to implement as much structure as I can. The difficulty is that this is not a Morrisons or a Tesco where you can plan, you have this coming in one day, and this coming in another. On a daily basis we have to be constantly evaluating what’s coming in and we rely exclusively on donation.

“You’ve brought really appropriate stuff, which is vital, we need that. There’s two palettes of milk over there, that can go in one and half days, there’s oil in there that takes up a huge area but it goes very rapidly.

“There’s rice, and you’ve brought us enough rice for three days which is beautiful because that’s going to feed up to 6,000 people. That’s the quantities we’re talking about here.

“This is an industrial operation now, it is [an] industrial size, we’re constantly having things constructed. We have a large workshop at the back where we build shelters, up to 70 a week for very vulnerable people.”

Barry proudly told me that nothing from the donation base has ever been thrown away. He added that some of the food that is donated, for example tinned pork products, aren’t suitable for many refugees, but are always recycled.

He continued: “People say that charity starts at home, but that is not always the case. Any of the donations that can’t be used here are sent back to food banks in the UK.

“Just like any nationality, people have different tastes and beliefs, which means some things can’t be given to the camp.”

While unpacking the van the long-term volunteers enthused about the food brought by StAR; Liz had previously co-ordinated with the main charity at the warehouse, L’Auberge des Migrants, about what to bring.

Buying the food meant that StAR could bring produce that would be used as efficiently as possible, and made the job of volunteers that bit easier.

Liz said: “The response from St Albans has been absolutely amazing. Sometimes it can feel like you’re working on your own and nobody is really all that interested but we know that’s not actually the case.

“It’s just that quite a lot of the time we don’t see all the people who are helping us out. The people who put money into the bank account, the PayPal account.

“Part of the reason like to give to us is because we’re a local organisation and they can see what we’re actually doing with the money that we receive.” StAR are fundraising for their next trip. If you would like to donate visit: http://stalbansforrefugees.org/donating%20money.html

A video of the trip can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Xtuvu-guR9s

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