Saturday 18 May 2019

Northern France trip – Jess Nisbet

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Since the end of last year, Emmaus Lambeth and Surrey have been developing a relationship with Help Refugees in Northern France  https://www.emmaus.org.uk/lambeth/latest/news/4849_from_lambeth_to_iasi_romania_-_solidarity.

As part of this, we have provided five drop-off locations for donations, and we have also collected donations from other designated places within Lambeth. We have then undertaken a one day van trip, once a month over the last three months, to get those donations to the Help Refugees warehouse in Calais.

At the beginning of last week, an eight person team made up of trustees, staff and Companions travelled to Calais and Dunkirk. The aim of the trip was to volunteer in the Help Refugees warehouse in Calais, and gain a better understanding of the current situation in Northern France. The work in the Help Refugees warehouse varies from sorting donations, helping prepare the food distributed each day from the Refugee Community Kitchen, or chopping firewood. The majority of our time was spent in the kitchen, peeling/chopping vegetables ready for the food distribution later on in the day. There was also the opportunity to take part in field training, whereby we were taught how to react to different situations when going out on a distribution run (giving food and other items to the refugees), safeguarding measures and knowledge of the current situation in Calais/Dunkirk.

Three members of our team got the opportunity to go on food distribution runs in both Calais and Dunkirk. Dunkirk is the base for the majority of displaced families, and both I and our Finance Director Danny served around 400 people their daily meal, alongside a team of other volunteers. This was both an eye-opening and unforgettable experience. As Danny said:-

“Logistically it is such an impressive operation run by the Refugee Community Kitchen. They provided good briefings and support both before the food distribution run, and afterwards.”

On the Tuesday morning, we visited Emmaus Dunkerque. Here we were given a very warm and effusive welcome from its General Manager Sylvie, who welcomed us in with open arms and hugs. Emmaus Dunkerque was previously a farm, so there were a number of different outbuildings for donation drop-offs and storage, plus a very large warehouse that housed their main retail space. The community building accommodates thirty four Companions. We were very interested to learn about their own solidarity activities within Dunkirk. They do their own food distribution to refugees every Friday, plus operating a weekly foodbank service for local Dunkirk residents as well. Legislation passed in France in 2015, means that supermarkets and large food providers are banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food, and must donate it to charities instead. We ate a splendid lunch with the community, and the whole visit was definitely a reminder of how special the Emmaus family is.  We look forward to returning to Emmaus Dunkerque in the future! Our thanks goes to them and Help Refugees for making our trip so worthwhile.

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