A Bristol charity is calling on people to re-think how they support those fleeing Russian forces in Ukraine - because many items donated from generous people in Bristol may never make it to those in need.
Aid Box Community has made the plea as collection points all over the city become overwhelmed with donations of aid - so much so that one of the biggest sites, Emersons Green Village Hall, had to close today (March 7) due to lack of space.
Imogen McIntosh, founder of the charity which supports refugees in Bristol, said she feared many of the items could go to waste due to the cost and paperwork required to get them to the Ukrainian border.
She also said the vast amount of work required to sort, pack and distribute the items - ranging from clothes to toys - meant they could add stress to groups supporting people on the ground.
Ms McIntosh was speaking from experience, having run aid missions taking donations to French refugee camps previously. On Facebook, the charity posted a picture of dumped items showing what can happen.
Instead, Ms McIntosh wants people to follow UK Foreign Office advice and to send funds directly to groups on the ground to support immediate needs.
Speaking to BristolWorld, she said: “When something horrific happens, particularly if you have a personal connection to it, people are desperate to do something and a kneejerk reaction is to collect donations - but since Brexit it has become hard to send aid because of paperwork and expense.
“There is also the huge use of time needed to collect, sort, pack and distribute all the items which are sent - if it does arrive the needs of those people may also have changed by the time it gets there.
“The best way to help is to send funds to where the crisis is happening so people can quickly benefit.
“I do totally understand why people do make donations - but it can actually add distress to those on the ground providing support.”
In Bristol, it appears hundreds of people have donated items at collection points, such as at Emersons Green Village Hall where teams have filled vans with boxes destined for Ukraine.
Over the weekend, a call-out from the hall was made for men’s t-shirts and hand towels following an appeal from a hospital in Ukraine.
However, today, due to ‘an overwhelming response’ drop off donations to the gall were stopped due to ‘the small space in the hall that has been used, is not sufficient for the amount of donations received’.
An alternative drop-off point will be announced later.
Ms McIntosh says she was providing advice to one woman with a ‘huge’ collection who was having difficulties working out how to send the items to Ukrainian refugees.
She believes the amount of items being collected, and associated difficulties, will mean some will not leave Bristol, and could end up in landfill.
Although warehouse capacity is currently full for Aid Box Community, she is making plans for a large amount of donations originally planned to be sent to Ukrainians.
Ms McIntosh’s calls are in line with UK Foreign Office guidance which states: “One of the best ways to help is by donating cash through trusted charities and aid organisations, rather than donating goods.”
It adds: “Cash can be transferred quickly to areas where it is needed and individuals and aid organisations can use it to buy what is most needed.
“Unsolicited donations of goods, although well-meant, can obstruct supply chains and delay more urgent life-saving assistance from getting through.”
Today is the 12th day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which now has a military presence in many areas of the east of the country.
Advances have also got close to Kyiv, which Ukraine claim Russian forces are preparing an assault on.
Russia has said civilians can leave, but mainly on routes to Belarus or Russia.
More than 1m have gone the other way, and crossed the borders into Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova.