How would we manage?


How would we manage?

Each month we give out packs of essential toiletries such as shampoo and toothpaste

02 October 2015

How would we manage?
Each month Jesuit Refugee Service UK distributes over 180 toiletry packs to destitute asylum seekers via our weekly Day Centre. Speaking about the scheme, one refugee told us: “they give us the hygiene pack, which I found helpful, which means you are able to keep any money you have to buy other things you need. You get the things to use, how we would do without…? And for the rest of us, men and women, I don’t know how we would manage.”

The asylum seekers who come to JRS for help are destitute. They are not permitted to work, nor have access to public funds or social benefits. This means they are entirely dependent on charity or on the good will of any network of friends or wider family they have here in the UK. Most are in very insecure accommodation, such as hostels, rely on ‘sofa-surfing’ or sleep on the night bus, and from time to time sleep on the streets.

A recent British Red Cross survey indicated that many people in this situation eat only one proper meal each day. These are the additional challenges they face while they sort out their asylum claim or appeal. The main stresses are loneliness and isolation, separation from family members, language barriers, trauma from their previous country, journey or experience here.

A toiletry pack enables someone in this situation to take good care of themselves and maintain a little dignity. It also means that they can use any cash or vouchers on food, essential phone calls or bus travel. It is also a gesture of practical help alongside other services we provide.

So, we need 2,160 lots of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shower gel, body lotion… and other everyday items every year to provide everyone with the basics they need. To sustain this scheme, our volunteers pack up more than 17,280 items in a year. That’s a lot of bottles!

We can order items through a special charity scheme that donates products that can no longer be sold in shops (e.g. due to a spelling mistake on a label or outdated branding). This incurs a delivery charge. They are packed up by volunteers each week and given out at our Day Centre on a Thursday by another volunteer who keeps a record in a book. Each collection provides the chance for a nice conversation or sharing or news.

We also arrange toiletry collections in parishes and schools to get free items, which are mostly good or newly bought from a supermarket. The collections provide a good education opportunity and also a chance for people to make a difference in a small way – everyone understands the need for soap and toothpaste, even if they find the whole system or politics of refugee rights and difficulties overwhelming.

Sometimes people give out of date or opened items which we cannot use. We want the refugees who receive them to know that they get the same quality as everyone else – not recipients of unwanted or rubbish things. We say to the donors to think: “would I like to receive this?” or “would I be happy to give this to a relative or friend?” The message asylum seekers often receive in this country is that they are not wanted or are disregarded, so we work hard to make sure they feel just the opposite – special and welcome – when they come to JRS. Hopefully, the toiletry packs go a small way to doing this.

The scheme costs £4,200 to cover delivery charges, volunteers travel costs and a little publicity. Each pack costs us £2 to put together and contains £15 worth of shop bought toiletries.

For more information or to donate items to help sustain the scheme, contact:

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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