Yesterday our distribution in Calais started out fairly quiet. We thought it would be an unusually easy afternoon until suddenly a group of guys came up to our sewing station. They all took off their winter coats and showed us large rips on each one that needed urgent fixing. I knew we would have to knuckle down to get this done in time, because if we failed they would have nothing warm to wear that evening in two-degree weather.
So we got to work, even recruiting a group of volunteers from the hot drinks station to help us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people sewing at once. One of the refugees, Sammy, got everyone a round of tea and coffee as a thank-you while I mended his only coat. It had a ripped cuff and the inner lining was falling out – not very effective against the cold.
What really moved me was that each person only asked us to fix one single rip, even though most of their coats had multiple other tears. When we asked if they wanted us to mend those too, they said it wasn’t important. They just needed the coat to be functional enough to keep them warm, nothing beyond that. They never want to ask for too much or to feel like they are wasting our time.
Working together, we managed to finish everything in time and got to see the guys smile widely as they put their coats back on. We aren’t professionals by any means, but they were so happy with the results. That’s all that matters.
But deep down I wish we could have given them something better. Some of their coats weren’t practical for the weather we’re getting. One of the guys had a smart woollen jacket with no hood or waterproof lining, which isn’t ideal when you’re sleeping rough. Although we mended the rips in the jacket’s pockets and lining, I wish we could have given him the thick and warm winter coat he clearly needs.
Help us give Sammy and his friends the warmth they need to survive this winter. To donate a coat or help us buy one for just £20 go to care4calais.org/coats4calais