“Hunger is growing in the camp now the winter weather is setting in and there is never enough food. There are around 10,000 refugees in the camp and we can only serve 1,000 meals a day.
The desperation is palpable.”
A kitchen run by volunteers has been set up in Calais’ ‘Jungle’ refugee camp to provide daily hot vegetarian meals to the residents and make up for a shortage of government support. Run entirely on donated food the One Spirit Ashram Kitchen serves meals and encourages interaction by providing a space for refugees to meet and share stories.
It is estimated that there are now 10,000 refugees living in the Calais camp, yet the overworked kitchen – where the food is cooked on four gas rings – is currently only able to provide 1,000 hot meals a day. There is also rising pressure from an evergrowing need for donated food items and volunteers.
With help from government agencies in short supply, it is the volunteer-led initiatives like this kitchen which are supporting the camp residents, but with temperatures approaching sub-zero—a hot meal each day is more important than ever before.
Volunteer Amelia Burr gives us some insight on the work of the kitchen and morale at camp with winter approaching.
Can you tell us how you became involved with the One Spirit Ashram Kitchen and about the work it does?
Like so many I was feeling ashamed at the lack of humanity being shown to people in the camps in Europe, so I went out to Calais to see if I could help and stumbled upon this incredible kitchen set up in a small marquee.
The kitchen was set up by two guys from Bath who saw the need not just for hot food, but for a place for people to share a meal together, share their stories and feel human again.
It started in September 2015 in a much smaller tent but over the last two months, as the population of the camp had ballooned, the kitchen has tried to expand and do more and currently serves 1,000 meals a day—breakfast and dinner.
It’s a mammoth effort and achieved with so little food supplies. Although the simple vegetarian cuisine is always delicious, sadly there is never enough of it. There is no electricity, so all food is cooked on four gas rings and we use water from the communal camp taps.
“Around an hour or two before the kitchen opens up for serving, a queue starts to form outside as the masses wait patiently in the wind and rain for a plate of hot food.”
To encourage interaction and solidarity everyone sits together on wooden pallets covered with blankets to enjoy their meal. Volunteers and camp residents all sit together (the kitchen also provides a hot meal to the 200 volunteers currently working at the camp).
Volunteers in the kitchen are made up of camp residents and people like me who want to help. Some of these volunteers are living at the camp full time, others go on their days off from work to do what they can. They work tirelessly out of solidarity for their fellow human beings who are being forced to live without basic necessities, such as food and shelter.
With so many people to feed and not enough food to feed them all, does this cause tension in the camp?
With so many different nationalities living alongside each other in desperate situations there is tension. Most people are very grateful, but naturally some people do try to push in the queue out of desperation—as they know there is not enough food to go around. Sometimes people queue for ages and get nothing.
Food parcel distributions are also done daily, but again it is not enough; we need more food and more donations to feed more people, especially as some people are now becoming malnourished. As there are no overarching aid organisation working in the camp there is no infrastructure in place, but the kitchen is working hard to make food distribution more structured and centralised.
A bigger kitchen is being built right now and we are setting up a system to allow us to feed more people in different areas of the camp, but to do that we need money. It is important to remember that there is very little government and agency support at the camp and so most support is reliant on what individual volunteers have set up through donations and determination.
How are conditions and morale in the camp at the moment?
The weather is awful and morale is very low. People are desperate and losing hope. People are doing their best to keep clean and dry and keep their families fed but this is a full time job in those circumstances.There are cold water taps and a few portaloos, but that’s it.
“There is no place to shower or wash with hot water, nowhere to wash or dry clothes, very few proper shelters (most people live in camping tents) and nowhere to cook or food to cook.”
I cannot stress enough how little there is in place for the refugees, and the food and shelter that is there is only there because of the ongoing efforts of individual volunteers and donations.
Police also enter the camp around twice a day in full riot gear. This is not in response to any unrest—it is simply a show of force and adds tension to the camp. The police have even fired tear gas into the camp. Following a conflict with some refugees who were blocking the highway in protest the police fired tear gas at them and then also into the nearby camp, which had families sleeping in tents—totally unaware of what was happening.
It is a dire situation.
How can our readers help?
Please donate what you can to the kitchen – just 20p will feed someone. You can also organise a food collection of rice, lentils, tinned fish, tinned tomatoes, pulses, sugar, flour and salt. They are always needed. We do not need crockery, just food.