The past month has continued to be extremely busy, despite the many other demands on people’s time during the festive season. Donations have continued to flow into Your Storage Space on Mondays and our monthly Saturday morning donation drop. Luckily levels of volunteers have also been great – sometimes astonishing! We moved our sorting times to the earlier 13.30 – 15.30 as we sort by natural light, and on a dull winter’s day this has been a real challenge. One of our volunteers has lent us some disco lights, which, when fixed on a static white light mode, do help (at least in a small area).
The warehouses in Calais are both still fully operational, supporting the camp in Dunkirk, sending aid on to Greece and Lebanon, and increasingly supporting the growing number of refugees who are street homeless in Paris. We are still sending aid both to the Calais warehouses and to RAFT (Refugee Aid from Taunton) who pass it on to charities delivering to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. We have had several loads go out this month.
We have launched several Winter appeals: for Hygiene packs, Cold and flu packs, and Winter warmth packs for refugees on the streets of Paris, where conditions are dire.
This runs hand in hand with a massive challenge: we’re trying to raise £1,500 to spend on emergency aid over the winter. If you can help, our crowdfunding page is here: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/wintersurvival. We have already had donations of winter fuel allowances, Christmas card and Christmas present funds, and just plain simple donations, all of which are much appreciated!
As well as sorting and packing, our volunteers and friends have been busy fundraising too. Ruth ran a stall at the Wonky Winterwonderland in the Silk Mill raising £123. Jules ran a Second Chance clothing sale, raising £200 for RAISE and similar sum which has gone directly to buy hot water bottles for refugees in Greece. Bruton Wholefoods continues to support us by keeping a donations tin ever-present by the till, currently supported by a basket of deliciously hot fresh chillies grown on the Emily Estate at Hadspen, each available for a donation to RAISE. The Frome Community Choir serenaded the women of Trinity Church, who in turn donated the amazing sum of £121.46 to RAISE: many thanks to both groups. We have also received a generous cheque for £200 from the Frome Circle Dance band. All these sums will be going towards our winter appeal.
We continue to be open to working in partnership with other groups with similar aims, in order to maximise the effects of our work. One partnership which is new this month is that with Hope and Aid Direct, a UK based charity who regularly drive convoys of aid out to people in need. Their next convoy will take aid to Thessaloniki and Lesvos in Greece in January. Although most of their five trucks are already full, we have managed to reserve a corner in one truck, and have put out an appeal for 100 filled handbags. The bags will be distributed to the women in the refugee camps to restore some dignity and normality, as well as providing some womanly comforts. The idea of filling and distributing handbags is something of a trademark for Hope and Aid Direct, and it has certainly appealed to our supporters. Our appeal closes on 7th January and the response to it has already been amazing: probably the closest we’ve been to going viral, with offers of bags coming from all over the country. It’s something we’ll definitely look at repeating and developing on if we can for Hope and Aid Direct’s next trip. Many thanks too to our two special town centre drop off points for handbags: Inspiration in Frome and Swan Vintage in Bruton.
Another partnership that’s been growing for a while is that with Calais Action South West. This month we have effectively amalgamated the two groups, welcoming them and their resources to the RAISE banner. This has allowed us to introduce an additional satellite donation drop point at Storagebase on the outskirts of Frome, which – with it’s extended opening hours – will be a boon. You can read more about that in this blog post.
Another of our aims is to raise awareness of the plight of refugees, and what people can do to help. At the end of November we held a public meeting with the Frome Syrian Refugee Support Group, with speakers also from Bath University, Somerset County Council and the Mendip YMCA. This caught the attention of Frome FM and the Frome Times, both of whom gave much appreciated publicity to the event.
Three of our volunteers, Rob, Laura and Tony, also visited Frome Community College to talk with students there about their experiences of volunteering with RAISE and in Calais.
The Frome Times also published the story of our Somerset Smiles bags, developed in response to an idea from the leader of the Paulton 2nd Brownies. This appeal, which we’re running with RAFT – Refugee Aid from Taunton – will see many hundreds of gift bags distributed to Syrian refugee children in the New Year, and has been massively successful.
Last but not least, in my (almost) monthly round up: I couldn’t resist including this picture of three of the lovely women who have been gathering in the Cheese and Grain to explore the fine arts of knitting and crochet. As well as working on squares for blankets, they are also raising awareness of what we do (and having a lot of fun)! Knitters and crocheters are welcome to donate 12″ squares towards blankets, and for those with more advanced skills, hats, scarves, and gloves are always welcome too.