The first time you set eyes on the 40,000 boxes of donations for Grenfell fire victims, you need a moment to comprehend what you're looking at. Three football pitches worth of donations – an estimated 174 tonnes. Cardboard boxes and steel shopping cages laden with goods are stacked up across a vast warehouse. It is an awe-inspiring sight.
The sheer quantity of goods is hugely impressive, but perhaps what's more inspiring is what they represent. These donations are the embodiment of people's generosity and goodwill. They represent all that is best about humanity – the selfless desire to help people in need.
Yet here they are, stacked up in a London warehouse. How is that so? In the days and weeks after the Grenfell Tower fire, it quickly became apparent that there were too many donations for people affected by the tragedy, but that isn't to say people are no longer receiving donations.
Victims are still coming to a nearby rest centre to collect items such as toiletries, clothing and bedding on a daily basis. When these run out, there is a huge supply of goods ready to replenish the stock. The question the council needed to address was what to do with the excess stock?
They asked the Red Cross to sort the excess items so they do not go to waste. Since the end of June, our volunteers have been working alongside community volunteers to sort through the tonnes of donations.
The best new items are separated out and sent back to the Grenfell community, so people can take what they need. The second-hand items are being distributed across the country for sale in Red Cross shops. To date, this is where we stand:
- 62 tonnes of donations have been sorted;
- 27 tonnes are either in Red Cross shops, or in transit to shops; and
- 10 tonnes of new goods – mostly clothes, bedding and toiletries – are going directly to the people affected by the fire.
This is a huge operations and it will take time. Volunteers have spent more than a thousand hours sorting through all the stock.
All donations sold in our shops are tagged 'Shop for Grenfell'. This means we can ensure that 100% of money made from the sale of these items will go back to helping victims via our London Fire Relief Fund.
Money from the London Fire Relief Fund is being distributed to victims by the London Emergencies Trust. Around £158,000 has already been given out. This money is helping survivors and families who have been bereaved or injured by this horrific fire. The Trust has received around 50 applications for funds in the last week alone, and 64 in the last fortnight.
We have been working closely with the community and we are aware that people are worried about what's happening with the donations. We can assure everyone that, as a neutral and independent humanitarian organisation, our ultimate priority is to ensure that people affected by this tragedy get the help they need. We will continue to listen and talk to the community. We stand should-to-shoulder with them and will do everything we can to help.
People affected by the fire can apply for the funds via the British Red Cross support line on 0800 458 9472 (open 8am – 8pm).
Mike Adamson is the chief executive of the British Red Cross.