22nd March 2020, London
“Stop it. Just stop it.”
– Dawn Bilbrough, Critical Care Nurse –
Two days ago, a critical care nurse sent a message in a virtual bottle out to the world.
Reduced to tears, sitting in her car, Dawn Bilbrough’s utter disbelief and anger at the fact that panic buyers had ransacked, raided and emptied local supermarket shelves, is more than tangible. It’s a physical force, as is her pleas to everyone panic-storing supplies amidst a Covid-19 pandemic, to ‘just stop it’. Because after all, lifesavers cannot save lives, if they’re forced to starve too.
I am not ashamed to admit that I cried watching Dawn’s sad bewilderment. And that a part of me hasn’t really stopped since. She verbalised beautifully and honestly something so many in the care sector are fast-realising.
That panic-buying is set to cost us all more than just a few extra pounds at the till. It’s set to cost lives.
This past week, I have abandoned my work deadlines, my family, my friends, and even my stomach, in the hopes of finding some way out of the rock and the hard place that far too many front-line groups are finding themselves in.
That rock and a hard place is resultant of panic-buyers causing all major suppliers and local stores to shut down any larger-than–the-sum-of-one food or goods orders.
Which means suddenly, neither the 4 refugee response teams we aid in Calais, Dunkirk and beyond, nor the 11 women’s shelters that my team at Making Herstory are trying to aid, can get what they need to keep hundreds of people alive and safe.
For love nor money it seems, can I find the goods we need in the quantities we need. Whether that be pot noodles and soap bars, to medical gloves and phone cables (urgently needed to enable refugees to keep in touch with socially-distant volunteers), nothing is available for the next two weeks. Whilst prices being charged for even delayed and smaller services, threatens to leave us completely out of funds.
Desperation has led me to click my way down as many avenues as possible. From thinking about getting prepaid Visa cards and Mastercards out to individuals so they can hit the corner shops independently, to DM’ing, and urgently-requesting managers of major suppliers across the country.
But a week on, I still don’t have a solution. Because people have yet to stop panic-buying.
Neither O’s Refugee Aid Team nor Making Herstory are big. In fact, we’re so small, we don’t even have to register with the Charity Commission (and don’t have the manpower for that rigmarole either).
We don’t have millions in the bank. We point-blank refuse government funds (we can’t challenge those causing the problems we see if we’re funded by them). And not only that, but we only ever put a call out when we need help that we can deliver on right away.
And right now, we need your help.
We can’t let those who truly need help, to face this crisis alone. And we can’t let the teams trying to save them starve either.
So instead, I’m going to be asking supporters to send in any spare foods and goods from the lists we’ve been given, directly to us. Whether that be a single noodle pack, or a bar of soap.
But before we can do that, we need a storage space — a safe, manned space, where goods can be taken in safely, sorted and sent out by myself and other volunteers.
If you know of a space in East London, which can voluntarily take deliveries for us, please get in touch.
Or if you have ANY IDEAS that we may be able to use both here in the UK or in Calais and Dunkirk, please get in touch. (I’m still trying to see if my prepaid Visa/Mastercard idea will work – so if you know someone working for those companies who can help, please send them our way!)
And in the meantime, should you know anyone panic-buying and boasting about their stock-piles, please remind them kindly, that they do so at a cost greater than they could ever know. And that it’s time to get sharing…