My screen is awash with images of anoraks, tracky bums and sleeping bags as I check the items on CalAid’s Christmas list : £7 for a thick hooded sweatshirt; £8 for a pair of men’s jogging bottoms and an extra warm sleeping bag for £16.95. As presents go, they’re not exactly pricey and each item you donate will be shipped directly to the refugees who need it most, whether they’re in camps in Turkey, France, or Greece.
Even though the Calais ‘Jungle’ is closed, CalAid is still very active, supporting Care4Calais and Help Refugees with aid for people left destitute in smaller camps and the numerous refugees now stranded on the streets of Paris. Last week it emerged that over one third of the children tracked in the ‘Jungle’ have gone missing since the eviction. Added to which, almost 2,000 children now remain in limbo in French relocation centres. Amber Rudd MP said the UK would share responsibility with France for these children, but has backtracked now that pressure has eased. So, once again, we need to keep on her case.
Mid way through reading the Independent’s online report on these missing children, an advert pops up on my screen - Pure cowl neck Poncho in Chambray Blue… drapes like a dream and works with everything. I frown at the image. My original and highly inadvisable Google some months ago was for a cowl neck jumper not a poncho. I had a poncho when I was six. I don’t want one now. Reduced from £199 to just £109. Is this the most elegant and versatile layering piece ever?
No, it’s not. Just leave me alone.
I click the picture away, wondering if I’m going to be chased for eternity through the corridors of my life by such adverts - or until I finally suffocate in a virtual sea of cashmere cowl necks, Loaf sofas and ads conning me into believing that Judy Dench / Goldie Hawn / Meryl Streep have snuffed it, while trying to flog me overpriced face cream.
After lunch, I scan a recent report on a refugee camp in the Epirus region of Greece. Becky, CalAid’s feisty on-the-ground woman out there, has been coordinating the volunteers to distribute food, clothing, toiletries and hygiene kits. She's also been making sure the shelters are rain and storm-proof now that winter’s got a grip as well as organising specially trained teachers to give the children there a basic education. Becky is cut from the same cloth as Liz Clegg from the Calais ‘Jungle’ and I’m a little in awe of her.
I’m still amazed by how much people are doing - whether it’s volunteers who spend their weekends sorting through donated sleeping bags and warm coats in CalAid’s Slough warehouse; the Brixton school children who gathered in Windrush Square to show their solidarity with refugees, or Liz Holden, whose Christmas cards I came across in my local bookshop, from which 50% of the profits go directly to the Refugee Council.
And if I focus on these small (and large) acts of human kindness, it somehow makes the freaky events of this strange year a little more manageable.
To donate to: CalAid
To tell Amber Rudd what you think: Amber Rudd MP
To keep up the pressure to allow unaccompanied child refugees into the UK: Help Refugees
To donate to Citizens UK who are helping to resettle refugees in the UK.