On the 1st September, 9 Jewish volunteers from the youth movements LJY-Netzer and RSY-Netzer embarked on a 6-day trip to Calais, where we volunteered for Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK), a charity that provides meals for the refugees in Calais. The charity aims to serve hot, familiar food to a population of mainly middle eastern refugees. Assuring safety and dignity is an increasingly difficult task due to the actions of the French government, with evictions a standard aspect of everyday life.
A typical day at RCK would involve turning up to their warehouse at about 9AM, for a quick morning briefing, before moving into the kitchen to start work for the day. The kitchen at RCK is of a professional standard as previously food had been prepared primarily in the homes of volunteers and the French government had tried to shut them down, using the excuse of poor hygiene. The meals would consist of a carbohydrate, often rice or pasta,curry or stew, a salad and some bread. Long-term volunteers prepare the carbohydrate (typically rice) and curry, in a series of huge pots while others prepare vegetables for the salad (typically cucumber, tomato, carrot and lettuce). After a quick lunch break, the salads are put together, and then we start preparing ingredients for mains the next day. This preparation would continue until about 5PM, at which point the kitchen would get wiped down and cleaned in preparation for the next day.
One of the most important parts of RCK’s work is the distribution of food. They distribute to both Calais and Dunkirk every day, providing up to 2000 meals. In addition to this, they provide food in Brussels once a week on a Wednesday. In Dunkirk we went on distribution, where we saw more of what these people suffer through on a daily basis. The first stop we made was in a car park where we set up tables and served about 200 people, before we left and moved on to the main distribution, at a gymnasium in the centre of Dunkirk. Here we served almost 1000 people, including families with women and children. We were there for about an hour and a half, and at the end had the opportunity to sit down with and talk to some of the refugees. For the long-term volunteers, it was incredible to see how they recognised and easily conversed with some of the refugees. Shortly after we left Calais, everyone in the gymnasium was evicted, leaving about 1000 refugees homeless, including a lot of children.
The experience of distribution was very strange. I felt that it was quite heartening to see the hope and happiness of the refugees, despite the poor situation they were in. In addition, being able to see the effect of the work we were doing in the kitchen really put our efforts into perspective and helped me to see the value and importance of an organisation like RCK, which operates entirely through its volunteers. My time in Calais was enlightening as to the privilege that we in the UK have, and further cemented my desire to continue to volunteer and help others whenever I have the opportunity. Doing it as part of a joint LJY-RSY venture was great, and volunteering with other young Jews was an enjoyable experience, as it felt like we all were able to get along easily, despite the fact that I had never met any of them before.