Donation FAQ: Shouldn’t anything help? Why only particular items?
“Anything helps” is a common misconception regarding people in need. Some may forget that homeless people are still humans and not much different from themselves. We want to treat people living on the street with dignity and respect. We don't want to offer them damaged, dirty or dysfunctional items. It is important to distinguish trash from donations. Please always consider: Do you want to donate this item because you just want to get rid of it or because you actually think it could help a person in need?
The homeless refugees we work with fit all their belongings in a small backpack and don’t have the capacity to store or carry many things. They keep their belongings to a minimum. Hence, the belongings they have need to be practical and useful.
Tents, sleeping bags, blankets
No matter the season, tents, sleeping bags and blankets are always the most needed items – that's because of a variety of reasons. First of all, those items are relatively costly and therefore not often donated. Associations need to act resourcefully and only give tents to refugees, who can share it with others, as there are not enough tents for everyone to own their own. Especially single refugees, who just arrived in Paris and don't know anyone, end up sleeping on the open air for the first couple nights until they can obtain a tent with others. We want to be able to provide tents to people in such emergency cases.
Secondly, the city of Paris regularly evacuates refugee camps. Unfortunately, those evacuations happen either unannounced or on short notice. French police officers and law enforcement officials literally clear everything on the ground – including the tents and everything in it. If refugees are very unlucky, the evacuation happens while they are away from their tents, which results in everything being taken away from them when they return, including all personal belongings. Often, aid-associations try to retrieve tents, sleeping bags and blankets, clean them and redistribute them to the homeless. However, law enforcement on the ground usually prohibits recollections and trashes everything instead. The refugees, who just lost everything are discouraged to resettle on the cleared ground and are left behind with nothing. That’s why a supply of tents, sleeping bags and blankets are particularly needed after such evacuations.
Why only men’s clothes? Why small sizes only?
The majority of homeless refugees are young men. Many of them are underaged or in their early 20s. They've had a long journey from their country of origin, which has visibly taken its toll on their health and bodies. Additionally, they are malnourished while living on the streets and consequently are very skinny. While they surely could wear oversized and baggy clothes, it would simply be nicer to provide them with fitting clothes.
While our association also accepts women and children's clothes at times, we want to keep these donations to a minimum. We've made the experience to receive more donations for women and children than we can distribute or store. We do like to keep a stock of emergency items for women and children but we don't have the storage space to hold onto too many things for too long. Everything we receive is distributed relatively quickly.
Why does the condition of clothes matter? And why don’t you want to take dress shoes or collar shirts if they are in good condition?
While we can rarely offer brand new clothes, the condition of clothes should be as good as possible. Unfortunately, we have received dirty or damaged clothes before. It is a lot of work to sort donations and to deal with the pile of items that we can’t distribute. It is additional work for us to bring them to clothing recycling centers or re-donate them to organizations that have a better use for the materials.
When it comes to the donation of more elegant clothes like dress shoes, collar shirts (or for women: dresses, skirts, pumps, high heels), you can ask yourself “would I wear this on a camping trip?” If the answer is no, these items aren’t suited as donations. Perhaps you can donate them to associations that support refugees, who are more established in their immigration process and can use more elegant clothes for job interviews etc. Our association focuses on homeless refugees and emergency supplies, which is why we only accept practical and comfortable clothing items.
What about hygiene and medical needs?
Hygiene and general health are intertwined, yet often overlooked. We work closely with the Swiss association SapoCycle
that provides us with life-saving soap bars from recycled hotel soaps. Distributing soap bars has significantly helped to reduce the spreading of diseases and improve hygiene conditions in the camps. Additionally, we regularly get together with our friends from MARDI
(Medical Aid for Refugees and Displaced Individuals) to provide much needed medical assistance on the ground.
Even though SapoCycle covers our soap needs, we still need hygiene products like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shower supplies, etc. Refugees can use public shower centers of the city but have to bring their own shower supplies. Especially in hot summers or the rainy seasons that cover the camps in mud, we want to help them to stay as clean as possible. We are happy about collecting any kind of hygiene products. If you want to donate medical supplies, we’re glad to collect them but will hand them over to MARDI.
Thoughtful and creative donations
We appreciate atypical donations – if they are well-considered to the refugees’ situations and cultural background.
People from Middle Eastern or African culture prefer dried fruits and nuts over chocolate and candy. We tend to receive tons of candy after Easter or Christmas but made the experience that refugees are rather reluctant to take these kinds of sweets. On some other occasions, we’ve received boxes of dried dates and figs – amazing treats! The refugees’ current diet is very different from what they are used to from their homes. The food they receive from food distributions is usually plain and involves a lot of bread or sandwiches – very different from the colorful palaws or tasty stews they were able to enjoy at home. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rare. We love to receive dried or fresh fruits or nuts as an occasional goody. Items that are easy to distribute as we don’t have the capacity for much complexity.
– The refugees live outside, under bridges, near highways. The camps are big and loud. Earplugs are relatively cheap and easy to buy in bulk. It’s an easy way to help them get closer to a good night’s sleep!
– Phones are the only way to stay connected to their loved ones in their home countries via social media and are incredibly important to refugees. They also need a phone to receive text messages that update them about their asylum procedure. Sometimes, phones get stolen or taken away by police officers during camp evacuations. We’d like to keep a small stock of phones to help refugees if they lose their phones.
– The refugees don’t have much access to electricity while living in tents. As mentioned above, their phones are very important but when they run out of battery, it is not always easy to recharge quickly. Portable batteries are always a nice gift to refugees.
There are endless options to give thoughtful donations! While we primarily focus on the necessities for refugees on the street, we also appreciate other kinds of donations and gifts for them. If you have an idea but aren’t sure, don’t hesitate to message us! We appreciate your concern and every donation we receive!