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London Fire: Flood of Donations for Survivors Overwhelms Organizations

by Rachel Elbaum /  / Updated 
Volunteers sort through a pile of food and clothing donations near the site of the Grenfell Tower fire.Jack Taylor / Getty Images

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LONDON — A flood of generosity aimed at those who lost everything in the London high-rise fire has provoked an unexpected message.

“No donations,” read signs placed outside the Latymer Community Church, which is located in the shadow of the 24-story apartment block which was devastated by Wednesday's blaze, leaving dozens dead or missing.

"We expected an outpouring of support but no one predicted what it turned into"

"We expected an outpouring of support but no one predicted what it turned into"

Other organizations and agencies have also pleaded with people to stop offering inferno survivors everything from food and bedding to clothing and children’s toys.

“We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people offering donations of supplies for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. No further supplies are needed at this time,” Hammersmith and Fulham council, a neighboring local government, posted on its website.

At the nearby Westway Sports Centre, boxes of diapers, toilet paper and other goods sat on an empty tennis court.

Inside, a mall of sorts has been set up for people who lived in doomed Grenfell Tower as well as nearby buildings. Many had no access to their homes for several days after the fire.

 Donations are piled up at the Westway Sports Centre near London's Grenfell Tower. Jack Taylor / Getty Images

“People want to do something tangible so they’ve brought down whatever they could,” said Penny Sims, a Red Cross spokeswoman at the center. “Some of the non-perishable food and goods are being stored for victims to use when they need it. For example, people in emergency housing in hotels aren’t able to cook now but when they are relocated to an [apartment] they will need the food that’s been collected.”

Jim Cowin took Monday off work to drive several hours to London with boxes of new T-shirts and sneakers from his home in Nottingham.

“I lived here as a kid and felt I had to do something,” said Cowin, as he waited outside the center for someone to take his donations. “While I’m not part of the community anymore, I feel close to it. The stuff has been in my garage and I thought they could get good use out of it.”

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Despite the calls for a halt in donations of goods, aid organizations say that financial contributions remain welcome.

However, they have yet to determine the best way to distribute the funds to victims.

Over the weekend, the British government announced a £5 million ($6.3 million) emergency fund for people who lost their homes, including an immediate £500 ($636) cash payment.

Related: How Did London High-Rise Become a Concrete Coffin?

At the entrance to the sports center, hundreds of bags and boxes of mostly used clothing, shoes and bedding were left overnight.

Volunteers sorted through the goods, packing them into boxes. Officials say they will eventually be distributed to either fire victims or other charities.

 Clothing and other supplies are stored near Grenfell Tower in London. Neil Hall / Reuters

“We are trying to keep the new stuff here and take the stuff that isn’t needed into storage,” said Terry Oliver, who was helping coordinate the efforts for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council — which owns Grenfell Tower.

Away from the sports center, one of the difficulties that aid organizations now face is logistical: how can they get the goods collected to the survivors?

“There hasn’t been a clear decision as to who is distributing the goods that have been donated,” said Zia Salik, national fundraising director Islamic Relief UK, adding that the non-profit organization has "sent out messages saying, 'No more.'"

He added: “We expected an outpouring of support but no one predicted what it turned into.”

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