Cally to Calais: Food charity brings aid to migrants
PUBLISHED: 13:28 03 November 2015 | UPDATED: 13:28 03 November 2015
Like many people in the UK, Jennie Matthias was shocked by heart-wrenching TV images of migrants desperate to cross the Channel. But she wasn’t prepared just to sit and watch.
After discussing ways in which she could help with a friend, ex pop star Miss Matthias, 58, who manages Matchless Gifts in Caledonian Road run by the charity Food for All, hatched a plan to bring much-needed supplies to migrants in Calais.
“After a quick chat with our director Peter O’Grady, we agreed that we could make it happen,” she said.
The charity she works for was already providing 1,000 meals six days a week for the homeless and needy – so they already had a van and some willing volunteers. All they needed was donations.
As well as asking everyone she knew to contribute, Miss Matthias launched an appeal through Facebook and Twitter.
The response, she said, was unprecedented: “Young people made cakes and sold them to help with the ferry fare and petrol; people from the Highgate Newtown Community Centre all got involved with collecting and sorting out clothing and toiletries; and the Food for All van collected many items from well-wishers.”
On October 21, the seven-strong team, which included volunteers from Food for All and friends of Miss Matthias, set out to Calais with two vehicles loaded with hot food and provisions that included sleeping bags, tents and clothes.
“We went with no expectations because everyone was saying different things,” said Miss Matthias. “Some people said the migrants didn’t need anything, others said they did. It was one of those situations where we didn’t know exactly what we’d find.”
After a short ferry crossing, they arrived at the refugee camp known as the “Jungle” just outside of Calais, where thousands of migrants hoping to enter the United Kingdom have set up camp.
The team had all seen images on TV, but nothing could have prepared the team for the reality of the camp.
Peter O’Grady, 52, said: “It was raining, and everywhere people were wandering around aimlessly, desperation on their faces. Within seconds of arriving, we realise that the situation was much worse than we expected. Some people had been living here for three months or more.
“There were a dozen portable toilets, no showers, no communal buildings, no kitchen and a few people were trying to cook some porridge on an open fire.”
Miss Matthias recalled: “Some people didn’t have shoes and were walking around in cold mud. Other had folded the backs of wrong-sized shoes down at the back of the heel so that they would fit them.”
Distributing the provisions turned out to be the biggest challenge.
“Hundreds of desperate people surrounded the van,” she said. “The first task was to get people to make a queue and then our team sprang into action. Soon, we were distributing rice, vegetable curry, cake, apple pie, apples and oranges – as fast as possible.”
The team then handed out the clothes and other provisions.
“We drove round the camp with the back door of the van and started throwing the bags out, left and right,” said Mr O’Grady. “The clothes were quickly snapped up and we were able to cover most of the camp.”
Reflecting on the mission, he said: “We were doing our little bit – we don’t claim to know all the reasons why these people are there and what the political solutions are to civil wars, bombings, weapons of mass destruction and illegal wars.
“We don’t know if some people are just trying to come to the UK to get a better life. But what we do know is that these people are our brothers and sisters, and there are likely to be many deaths as soon as the frost sets in.”
Two weeks on, the team is already planning a second ‘Cally to Calais’ trip at the end of November, as well as a Christmas appeal for more donations.
Miss Matthias said: “We are in need of Wellington boots, warm coats, gloves, socks and sleeping bags as well as large pots, pans, camping equipment, toiletries, torches and non-perishable food.”
You can donate through the charity’s Just Giving page justgiving.com/foodforalluk/ by specifying ‘Calais’. You can also drop off supplies at the Matchless Gifts shop at 102 Caledonian Road.