Harrogate mums’ mercy mission to Calais refugees

Refugees queuing for supplies at the Calais 'Jungle' camp. (Picture by Jude Palmer)

Refugees queuing for supplies at the Calais 'Jungle' camp. (Picture by Jude Palmer)

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By Graham Chalmers

We watch it on TV, we hear about it on the radio, we see the Facebook posts and the tweets.

A happy young man after aid from Harrogate is given to him. (Picture by Jude Palmer).

A happy young man after aid from Harrogate is given to him. (Picture by Jude Palmer).

The plight of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria strikes a chord but we feel as if there is nothing we can do to help.

But what if we did try to help? What if we did attempt to do something no matter how small?

A group of unpaid local men and women led by two Harrogate women have done just that.

Friends Sheryl Hudson and Louise Terzza and their plucky band of volunteers travelled to Calais with four van-loads of essential supplies after hundreds of people in our district answered their pleas for donations.

To document the trip – and spread the word – the two married mums who work in health and social care, took a photographer with them to France, Harrogate’s very own Jude Palmer.

The official behind-the-scenes photographer of the current Rugby World Cup took time off from her sporting duties to produce stunning black and white pictures which illustrate the full scale of the anguish of those who have travelled so far and who now have so little.

Jude said: “I felt quite strongly about refugee crisis and got in touch with Sheryl and Louise to say that I would love to document their ‘road trip’.

“ I did the journey to Calais Jungle with them in between rugby shoots that week. The whole thing left me with mixed up feelings.

“The refugees’ plight left me saddened and angered at the same time. It was a tough trip in many ways.”

Sheryl and Louise, who were recently nominated for an award in Harrogate’s Volunteer Oscars. had no idea when they originally asked for donations exactly what might happen.

They started a Facebook page called ‘Harrogate to Calais Jungle’ expecting very little but were overwelmed by the response.

But Sheryl Lawson says the generosity of the public in the Harrogate area meant the end result was more like a “large scale convoy.”

Sheryl said: “We received donated items in the hundreds, more than £1,1000 towards fuel and fares and many other offers of help.

“It took more than 50 volunteers over a fortnight to sort, organise and pack all the donations before we set off.”

She said: “Many local people and businesses opened their homes, garages and shops to act as seventeen drop-off points for donated items and local charity worker John Shackleton donated a large supply of first aid and medical equipment.”

The 14 volunteers delivering their aid to the Calais refugee camp known as the Jungle.

Sheryl said the work was tiring but rewarding. In total, the team distributed more than 1,130 individual food parcels plus:

l Hundreds of extra pieces of fresh fruit.

l Larger ‘kitchen’ supply bags containing oil, rice, flour, spices and pans.

l Tents, tarpaulins, tools and pallets for building shelters.

l Blankets, sleeping bags, yoga/sleeping mats.

l Firewood; toiletry parcels; clothes bundles.

l Waterproof coats; bags and rucksacks.

l Walking and outdoor shoes; medical and first aid supplies.

l Individually wrapped Eid gifts and outdoor toys for the children.

In between, the volunteers took the time to chat with the refugees and hear their stories.

One even gave up her own coat to a refugee who was without while another gave the shoes from his feet to someone in need.

But the crisis is very far from over and the band of Harrogate volunteers feel their job is far from over.

Sheryl said the team would be repeating the trip to Calais next month.

“The residents at Calais Jungle remain in our minds and our hearts. We are planning to return there on the weekend of November 20-22.”

If you are interested in helping in any way, contact them at Facebook - Harrogate to Calais Jungle or email - louiseterzza@gmail.com

l Jude Palmer’s official photo book of the Rugby World Cup will be published at the end of November.