The Welcome Box Campaign
Water cannons and tear gas, razor wire, capsized dinghies. These were the images accompanying Europe’s headlines throughout the summer. And then newspaper front pages carried the picture of a toddler face down on a beach in Turkey with waves lapping over his limp body.
How could ordinary people far away from the refugee crisis respond rather than simply feel helpless? For a church in Derby, England, the answer has been “welcome boxes.” Inspired by the tradition of giving “Christmas boxes” to those in need, they fill boxes with small gifts and deliver them to newly arrived refugees and migrants living in their city. “You can visit someone in their home with a small gift and be the first person they’ve ever met in the UK,” team leader Karina Martin explains.
Along with the initial box of gifts, trained volunteers take a copy of the city’s Welcome to Derby book. Later, they make follow-up visits to help the family settle in and to connect with local services such as healthcare and schools.
In the last decade, volunteers have delivered welcome boxes to hundreds of families. Recently one box made its way to a mother who had fled Iraq with her children after rebel groups had captured her husband. Her welcome-box friend helped her get back in touch with him. Later she wrote to the church: “I was alone in this country where I have no brother or sister or husband. But when I met you everything changed – you became my brothers and sisters. I thank God that I met you.” She is now waiting to be reunited with her husband, who is trying to make the difficult journey across Europe. In the meantime, she has renewed hope, and a friend to stand with her.