A GROUP of local residents have been overwhelmed by the amazing response to an appeal they ran through December to collect essential supplies for refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable people in Bradford and Leeds.

The ‘Reverse Advent Appeal’, now in its third year, is a project run by Sarah O’Mahony, Sarah Bruce and Stephanie Hull from the group Wharfedale Refugee Response.

The appeal encouraged people in the Wharfedale area to put one essential food and toiletry item aside on each day of advent, creating a complete box by Christmas which has then being donated to charities supporting refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable people in Leeds and Bradford.

In its first year 250 boxes were produced but this year over 350 boxes were produced representing nearly 9,000 items of food and toiletries with an overall value of approximately £10,000.

Last year’s boxes were distributed to the British Red Cross in Bradford and Leeds, St Vincent’s in Bradford, BIASAN (Bradford Immigration & Asylum Support & Advice Network) and PAFRAS (Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers) in Leeds. This year even more organisations are on board, including Bradford Food Bank and Leeds Refugee Forum.

Sarah said: “Winter is a particularly difficult time for so many people in our area who are struggling to make ends meet, including many asylum seekers and refugees who are living on just £37.75 per person per week. This appeal aims to provide essential food and toiletries, but also to send a message that we care. The response we have received shows just how powerful it is when a community comes together and unites for a common cause. Schools, churches and local businesses have all been involved, and we have so many wonderful volunteers who have kindly offered to help organise the collection of boxes and drive to Leeds and Bradford to distribute the goods.”

This initiative is part of ongoing support for refugee and asylum seeking families provided by members of the group. In addition to food, toy and clothing collections, they have been working with Bradford Refugee Action to arrange day trips throughout Wharfedale for families living in Bradford.

Sarah added: “These types of initiative can be run in any local community - it just needs someone to take the first step. If you don’t know where to begin I would suggest approaching a local charity to see what they need most and to offer your help”.

Christy Bischoff, Children and Families Project Manager at Bradford Refugee Action is delighted with the team’s efforts saying: “Many families have shown such resilience in getting to the UK and a place of safety, only to be faced with a hostile immigration system that does not always recognise their humanity. They struggle emotionally as well as practically and financially. It brings hope to the families that we work with to know that there are people living here in the local area that are desiring to be welcoming to them, through this appeal and the trips out throughout the year in Wharfdale. In a time of darkness, hope is essential to keep going. Thank you for to Wharfedale Refugee Response and all the local residents in offering this hope.”

For more information follow their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/wharfedalerefugeeresponse/