‘Let me be the guinea pig!’ I pleaded. All around me, members of the JRS UK team were hastily putting together plans to begin a delivery service and recruit drivers for this brand new project. I was desperate to do something practical to help our refugee friends, after spending the previous few days helping to ensure that all our staff and volunteers would be able to cope with a brand new way of working.
On Thursday evening at 5pm I started piloting our emergency delivery service and was able to drop food, toiletries, nappies (where needed) and cash to the most vulnerable people we serve. By the time I had returned to our centre at 9.30am on Friday, I’d managed to deliver parcels to 10 of our friends based in East and South London. A further 17 deliveries followed all over London on the weekend.
This was only made possible by the tremendous amount of work that had been put in by staff and volunteers, contacting all our friends to establish up-to-date contact details, especially mobile numbers and addresses. The efforts of Richard, a Jesuit in formation who has been part of the JRS team since last September, have also been extraordinary. Richard managed to convert our centre in Wapping to a fully functioning food bank in just a few days!
Another group who deserve a huge THANK YOU is the The Firstlove Foundation – Tower Hamlets Food bank. They delivered a transit van full of food to our centre at Wapping at the precise time we took the enormously difficult decision to close our drop-in centre. JRS has been working closely with this wonderful organisation for many years and the timing of this delivery was in many ways perfect.
On Friday afternoon, and evening, I travelled far and wide around West and North London. One of my deliveries was to a lady who was due to have a baby. When I called her, she said she was in hospital but her partner was at home to take the delivery. I recognised her partner and their children and I was able to drop-off a large box of nappies, as well as extra supplies for the whole family including new-born baby supplies. My colleague Liliane told me on Monday that our friend had a baby boy on Saturday evening. Mother and baby were doing well and were on their way home on Monday evening.
My very next drop-off was to a couple who I had got to know at our centre. The gentlemen had a massive smile on his face when he saw me, and his wife, who had a mask over her mouth, was clearly smiling too. They showed me their vegetable patch and promised to bring in some produce to the centre when things return to normal. I felt so relieved to witness such joy; to begin with I had been anxious about how the delivery process would go. I felt out of my comfort zone and assumed there would be problems with language, locations and phones not being answered and this would mean that some deliveries would not take place.
Once I was on the road and in contact with friends, my anxiety was soon replaced by excitement, and at the end of each shift, relief and fatigue took over. There were some inevitable teething problems but none that we couldn’t resolve quickly. The most important thing is that all deliveries were made successfully!
‘God is Good’ exclaimed one lady when she saw me on Saturday, her joy and relief plain to see. I felt a great sense of pride that we at JRS were not only able to do this for her so quickly, but that the foundations were now in place for us to ‘serve’ so many more. This lady is a regular visitor to our centre and communicates in French. She called Liliane, a French-speaker, soon after I left and told her that JRS was like her own family. Then she sang joyfully to her for quite a while!
We are all feeling very sad that we can’t run a drop-in centre, or many of our other services and activities, during these extraordinary times. However, we are now ready to deliver many more parcels, with a team of volunteers, to our friends in great need.
During this unprecedented and concerning time, the JRS Emergency Response Team is now delivering much needed food packages, and other essential supplies, such as hygiene and toiletry packs, collected from our centre in Wapping. To help us continue to deliver these vital packages donate to our Refugee Friends’ Hardship Fund today.