From little things big things grow. Debbie Andrews shares the Socks For Refugees story.
In the weeks leading up to Sock For Refugees being created, I had followed the horrendous news coming out of Greece about refugees who were arriving and trying to make their way across Europe. I shook my head and wondered why no one was stepping in – where was Europe? I, like so many, sat and sobbed when the photo of Aylan came across my newsfeed. I felt so helpless and frustrated.
I believe that we all have a personal responsibility to each other, and we should help whenever we can. But in our day-to-day life, we can only do what we can with what resources we have available at the time.
I couldn’t get on a plane and go and volunteer – I had commitments – but what I could do was share the truth. So I joined some Facebook groups and started reading posts from volunteers. I started sharing the first-hand accounts that were coming through. I donated where I could at grassroots level and supported those who were doing what I could not. I became what I call a ‘keyboard warrior’.
I sent messages of support and encouragement whenever I could and sat in front of my screen applauding those who were making things happen. These were ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Eventually I found France & Beyond, this non-political network of people wanting to collect and donate to Calais and farther afield. I joined. Quickly, I found that there wasn’t much I could do to help from my home in France – geographically, I was a long way from the camps that needed help. So I carried on with my keyboard cheerleading; I looked at photos and read refugees’ accounts. In one, a young lad mentioned that one of the worse things about being a refugee was not having socks. I started noticing photos of babies with no socks, children with no socks – every plea for aid that I read had socks near the top of the list.
October 19, I woke up and the first thing I thought about was socks. Socks for refugees. I posted on the France & Beyond Facebook page: was anybody doing anything about socks? Nobody said they were, and Socks For Refugees was born.
The idea was to buy a pair of socks, write a message on them, pop them in a freezer bag and post them to France. If someone didn’t want to send socks, they could donate money and I would buy the socks for them. There were a few obstacles to overcome. My first one was finding somewhere central where the socks could be sent. I posted on France & Beyond, and Frances stepped forward. She quickly became known as Sock Central. She lives near to Civray, which is close to the A10 – the backbone of the road network in south-west France. We thought it was a good place to have the socks sent, so Frances went out and bought laundry baskets, notified the local post office and got ready for socks.
October 20: I bought the website domain.
October 21: The site went live. Shortly followed by the Facebook page. It became apparent to me very soon after the Facebook page launch that I needed help as I had no idea what I was doing. Once again, I posted on the France & Beyond Facebook page, and Anglea and Helen answered my call. Helen started handling publicity and started helping Angela to become our Twitter queen.
So then there were four. Then Ros approached me with an offer to approach large companies and she deftly sent out a few emails. Nothing came back apart from standard response letters, but I now had a letter writer and general hustler in Ros.
So now we are 5.
None of us has met in person, and we all work this around our everyday lives. We’ve come together with a common goal: to make a difference. Yet this is what I posted on my timeline less than two weeks after waking up with that small seed of an idea for Socks For Refugees:
November 4: Another good day: SockShop stepped in to help us with socks – they offered to send 3000 pairs of socks to Greece for us. Socks so desperately needed by so many people. We had £100 donated to the sock fund, and someone else contacted us to say they were organising a ‘crazy sock day’ at their school, with every child giving £1 towards socks. I had an email from Canada and one from the USA, where they want to have ‘sock drives’. We had two camps contact us from Turkey to ask us for socks. I spoke with volunteers on the frontline and gave them the good news: socks are coming! That has been the story of my last few weeks.
Today is November 13 – we have now sent:
850 pairs of socks to Leros
150 pairs of socks to Iraq
3000 pairs of socks to Lesvos
1000 men’s heat-holders to Calais
1000 50/50 to the warehouse Calais
1500 pair of socks to Are you Syrious – these socks are going into No Man’s Land between Serbia and Croatia
500 pairs of socks with love going for direct distribution in Calais and Dunkirk via Sarah, one of the France & Beyond volunteers working on the ground
Odd socks have also started arriving and we are pairing these up to find them all friends of a similar size and colour.
Socks are such a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but they carry so much hope and love. Every pair that gets donated carries its own positive energy. Love. These socks will carry a message to every refugee that even if they felt nobody cared and the world was looking the other way, somebody somewhere did not: the socks prove it.
I am humbled and touched that so many people are stepping forward offering help. Together we can make a difference.