As The Salvation Army's work in Athens with asylum seekers and refugees is featured on Paul O'Grady: Sally Army and Me this Sunday (17 April) it is revealed that a Salvation Army partnership with St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham supporting destitute asylum seekers and refugees gave out 32,199 items of clothing last year to people in need.
St Chad's Sanctuary, based in Shadwell Street, Birmingham, acts as a place of welcome and hospitality. Since it opened in 2010 more than 62,000 people have come through its doors, and in 2015 the centre gave out 3,887 bags of food.
It offers a warm welcome and friendly face to asylum seekers in need, giving out food parcels, clothing, hygiene packs, bedding, kitchen items, personal hygiene packs, and offering English classes, immigration and legal advice. People are also able to have a hot drink and meal.
There is a small library, covering a range of themes from classics to geography, and computers which people can use. Craft classes also take place, and in the summer there is often a week-long summer school. Last summer this included First Aid Awareness training, a Safety Workshop run by the West Midlands Fire Service, a trip to Stratford, and creative writing and English classes.
Major Peter Forrest, Divisional Commander for The Salvation Army’s West Midlands division, said: “Many of the asylum seekers and refugees who come to us are completely destitute. They have nothing, and so are in need of clothes, personal hygiene items, food, bedding, and kitchen items, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to survive. The work we do with St Chad’s Cathedral, through The Sanctuary, means we can offer compassionate support and practical help for those in desperate need. Many asylum seekers and refugees are far from home, and are in need of a friendly face and a listening ear, as well as support to learn English so they can begin to integrate into their local community and help as they journey through the complex immigration process. We don’t judge, we just care for these people who are vulnerable or in need.”
Currently St Chad's Sanctuary is in dire need of donations men's jeans and underwear in small adult sizes - ideally sizes 28 to 34.
In this Sunday's episode of Paul O'Grady: Sally Army and Me (17 April) Paul travels to Athens to help feed hundreds of refugees fleeing wars in Syria and Afghanistan. With Salvation Army officers, he makes and hands out cheese-and-ham sandwiches to refugees in Victoria Square, which has become a temporary home for thousands.
Confronted by the reality of two month-old babies sleeping on benches and families traumatised by witnessing the brutal killing of relatives, Paul is forthright and speaks directly to the camera: "They're having a terrible time and they're going through a shocking ordeal. I don't know where they are all going to go but they've got to go somewhere, so we've got to show compassion. We have got to stop all this nonsense about 'Migrants, Migrants' as if they're a cockroach, a rat invasion. They're not; they're human beings. They had lives. They don't want to be here. War has forced them out."
With The Salvation Army team, when he starts to distribute cartons of milk, he is besieged by young men so is forced to hold back some supplies in order to make sure they reach mothers with young children. He sees one baby, said to be two months old, sleeping on a park bench in more than 70 degree heat. He meets a family who say they have fled Afghanistan having witnessed the brutal deaths of their relatives. He has a tense stand-off with a local woman who shouts that she wants the refugees out of Athens.
There are smiles from the children when he hands out bags of toys that have been sent from the UK. Close to tears, he says: "This is heartbreaking, because these have obviously been packed by children with the help of their parents, and there's little notes inside saying 'good luck', 'take care' and 'we are thinking of you'. And it's pitiful. There's little socks and there's pencils and mugs just things that we take for granted, or our children take for granted. I don't feel like Father Christmas.'
Captain Jo Moir, Paul’s mentor across the series accompanied him to Athens and said the trip had a lasting affecting on her:
“I think I put myself in their shoes a little bit you know. What if there'd been a tragedy in the United Kingdom and we all had to leave. Where would we go? Would people take us in? Would we have people screaming at us in a square saying go home? Would our children have no food to eat? For once the chatterbox has no words."
In addition, episode four features The Salvation Army’s emergency food provision and Paul witnesses this first hand at a centre in London.
Also, Paul speaks to the movement’s Territorial Commander and asks about the criteria that have to be met before becoming a church member - a soldier of God.
Watch Sally Army and Me on Sunday 17th April 2016 and join the conversation across social media - #SallyArmyandMe