Huge response to Hampstead mother's call to help refugees

PUBLISHED: 12:08 15 February 2016 | UPDATED: 12:08 15 February 2016

Volunteer aid worker Mary Mc Williams has collected a shipping container's worth of winter clothes to send to refugees in Greece. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Volunteer aid worker Mary Mc Williams has collected a shipping container's worth of winter clothes to send to refugees in Greece. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email

A shipping container packed full of lifesaving winter clothes for refugees has set sail for Greece after a marathon fundraiser by a Hampstead mother.

Mary loads up clothing ready to be shippedMary loads up clothing ready to be shipped

Former businesswoman and mum-of-three Mary Mc Williams is one of a growing number of volunteer aid workers who have travelled to Europe to help the millions fleeing war-torn Syria and Afghanistan.

She went to the Greek island of Lesbos in December and witnessed firsthand the horror of families being shipwrecked into perilous waters while making the dangerous crossing into Europe from Turkey.

Spurred on by the humanitarian crisis, the Hampstead mum launched a fundraising appeal to send a shipping container’s worth of vital clothing and blankets to Greece this winter.

In just weeks she collected thousands of jackets, jumpers and shoes, including welcome donations from Ham&High readers, and has raised £1,600 to transport the provisions to Athens.

The lorry leaves the warehouse bound for portThe lorry leaves the warehouse bound for port

The container has left bound for the Greek capital and is due to arrive on February 28.

“I’m overwhelmed by the response,” said Mary. “It was a huge project to take on and to see that container being filled up was incredible. Having spent so much time with the refugees I know how much this is needed.

“Because of these donations somebody will have a better chance of survival. A warm shirt, a blanket, a good pair of shoes gives somebody a much better chance of surviving this weather. People are sleeping out in -10 degrees.”

She first volunteered after seeing images of Syrian children drowning in the waters between Greece and Turkey that shocked the world last year.

Mary carrying sacks of clothesMary carrying sacks of clothes

Mary is among a burgeoning number of aid workers who travel independently of charities or NGOs to ramshackle camps in Greece and the notorious Jungle encampment in Calais to make their own small contribution to the relief effort.

In Lesbos, she worked at the volunteer-run Oxi camp in Molyvos where more than 1,000 refugees are washed up on the shores in small boats every day.

One of toughest tasks for aid workers is preparing refugees, unaware of how cold Europe is during winter months and without proper clothing, for the hazardous journey they face and it was this that prompted Mary’s appeal.

She is now fundraising with another organisation to send a 40ft shipping container to Syria.

“Please help if you can,” she said. “These donations of both clothes and money are actually helping to save lives.”

It comes as 27 migrants drowned off the coast of Turkey trying to reach Lesbos last week. Eleven children were among the dead.

An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015.

To give money visit and to donate clothes or long-life food products email Mary at

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