News Release

Staines Congregations Reach out to Care for Calais Refugees

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (‘Mormons’) in the Staines area participated in an unprecedented outreach event for the desperate refugees in Calais at the start of March. The project, titled 'Caring for Calais', took place in three different phases.

Phase one began prior to the weekend's main events, as church members across the seven congregations of the Staines region (‘stake’) spent five weeks asking for food parcel donations, valued at £15 each, from their local schools and neighbours, as well as friends on Facebook. The result from this effort was 1,600 completed food boxes.

Guildford congregation member, Rachel Neu, received 46 food parcels from her children's school alone. "I cannot thank the primary school parents enough for their generosity and compassion. The response has been inspiring. They have been part of a project that has generated 3,400 boxes of food, all headed to where it is needed most".

On Friday 4 March, over 100 Mormons from Staines and the surrounding area came together at the regional church centre to assemble a further 1,300 food parcels in a record two hours. These boxes were then transported to Calais early the next morning in a convoy of 20 vans, with 80 volunteers.

Phase two provided a new experience for the volunteers, who have participated in this refugee outreach on two prior occasions. Working side by side at the Calais chapel with over 60 members of the church’s Lille region, both ‘stakes’ packed 600 boxes of food that the French members had provided, taking only an hour to do so. President Gerry Neu, first counsellor on the Staines Stake Presidency, directed the process in fluent French, having served in that very building as part of his mission 25 years ago. 2,000 hygiene kits had been provided by the church’s Europe Area, which were also assembled. The combined total of English and French food parcels was estimated to be 3,400.

This was a special experience for the members of both ‘stakes’, many of whom knew very little of each other's language. 

Kelli Gilstrap, Stake Relief Society President of Staines, remarked, “It was a very moving experience to see the French and English tabards next to each other, working to provide relief to the suffering refugees in this area. It reminds you of the universal truth of our motto, Charity never faileth.”

Marie-Pierre Delforge of the Lille Stake said, "We have been impressed with how much the British have been helping the refugees. It is wonderful to be doing something for these poor people on our door-step alongside the British Saints [church members].”

By lunchtime, one thousand of these food parcels were transported to a warehouse in Calais for use by the charity L'Auberge des Migrants, rounding off phase two. 

Phase three of the project saw the remaining 2,400 food boxes being taken north to the new and old camps in Dunkirk. Members of the Staines stake had the opportunity to assist in the new Grande Synthe camp at Dunkirk by finishing shelters, storing 2,000 boxes of food in special containers and sorting clothing. 125 shelters were completely finished on Saturday thanks to the efforts of the stake.

In addition to this, several church members went to the old camp at Dunkirk to give food boxes to the charity Aid Box Convoy (ABC), who will distribute them to the refugees of the camp as needed. Event organiser, Paul Hearne, said, "Things are dire there. Some of the pictures are moving, particularly when you see that there are many families and children living in these conditions.”

Russell Ball, Stake President of the Staines Stake said, “This has been a remarkable effort. The support from the members of the congregations and local communities in our region has been fantastic. We were blessed to establish relationships with the good saints [members] of the Lille Stake. Uniting with them in the language of service has been spiritually uplifting to the members of our Stake. The timing of this event could not have been more crucial. We returned during a week of great distress and fear. We were grateful to make a significant food donation and to work on providing more comfortable shelter."

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