When my stake president told me he wanted our stake to go to a refugee camp known as “The Jungle” in Calais, France, and provide the refugees there with 5,000 meals, I thought he was joking. I looked a little closer at him and started to realize that he wasn’t! The challenge was set—the Savior had fed 5,000 poor and hungry people, and we were going to follow His example.
We launched the project during a stake Relief Society fireside. Nina Kerrou, our stake humanitarian leader, had visited the camp a few weeks earlier, and she came to speak to us about her experiences. She showed the sisters a video diary that she had filmed, so we saw for ourselves the terrible living conditions the refugees found themselves in. We saw the mud, which was everywhere and quickly destroyed everything that it touched. We saw the inadequate blankets, tents, and shelters, and we heard of the refugees’ boredom, despair, and fear. We heard of the fires that often got out of control at night, lit in an attempt to heat freezing bodies. Lastly, we heard of a woman who gave birth in the camp and pled for the volunteers to take her newborn baby to safety in their own countries so that her daughter would have a better life.
Our hearts were tender and our eyes were wet as we heard of these people who showed great courage in the face of such hardship and who had so little when we had so much. Right away, I started receiving texts, messages, emails, and calls from sisters who wanted to be involved in our project. I felt the Spirit confirm to me that we were doing the right thing.
We decided to pack the meals into boxes. Each box would hold three days’ worth of food for a family of four, which meant we needed to make 417 boxes. Nina did the math to work out how much food was needed to provide 5,000 meals, and we divided the responsibility for the items between the wards in our stake. One ward was asked to provide 9,220 fruit tea bags and 420 packets of biscuits. Another supplied 3,360 cans of carrots and beans. One member’s husband is a greengrocer, and his store generously donated half a ton of onions. We also included spices, herbs, vitamin tablets, and garbage bags in the boxes. In the end, we exceeded our goal, and we were able to provide 457 boxes, totaling 5,448 meals.
After the boxes were ready, we took 48 volunteers from our stake to Calais to deliver the food. We had several builders, carpenters, and medical professionals among these volunteers. We wanted to go and provide food, but we also wanted be useful in other ways while we were there.
When we got to Calais, there was plenty to do. The doctor and nurses from our group went straight to the medical center because the camp’s resident doctor hadn’t shown up that day. The charity we partnered with gave instructions on how to distribute the boxes, and some of our team went to the camp to give the meals to the refugees. Others stayed at the charity’s warehouse and put together hygiene kits with soap, deodorant, and toothpaste to distribute the next day.
On our second day there, we spent a few hours picking up garbage in the camp to help keep the refugees’ environment as clean and as pleasant as possible. It could have been easy to think there was no point, because it was such a big task, but every little bit helped. It was an additional way for us to express our love.
While we were in France, we wore the Mormon Helping Hands vests. The name of the Church is on the back of these vests, and when one of our members was walking through the camp helping wherever she could, she heard some refugees saying, “Thank you, Jesus Christ.” We loved hearing our Savior recognized as the Author of this good.
The project was ambitious from the outset, and at times, I wondered whether we would be able to pull it off. However, I didn’t need to worry—the Lord was with us each step of the way. It truly has been a testimony-building experience and a privilege to be a part of this project to reach out and help our brothers and sisters.