Black Friday is a new concept in Scotland and what a bonanza- with bargains to be had in most shops as the starting gun is fired on the Christmas shopping season. It's new to us but Americans have been at it for ages and it has come to represent a key fixture in the Thanksgiving Holiday calendar.
However, Black Friday means something altogether different if you are wintering on the Syria trail this festive season. In fact, it's fair to say that most days are pretty colourless if you face the prospect of suffering another night in a field somewhere in Eastern Europe waiting for papers or transport to the next stop on your journey. In the summer, it might just have been tolerable, but with the harsh continental winter fast approaching- grim nights in open fields could, with few degrees drop in Celsius, become fatal nights in open fields.
It’s easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed by the suffering- plaid out in the heart-breaking images that social media is awash with. But a group of Scottish volunteers are doing something about it. Something real.
Edinburgh Direct Aid operates out of a freezing, disused council warehouse in Granton, where a bunch of hardy volunteers receive, sort and box up clothes, sanitary products and educational aids for those currently making their way through Europe looking for sanctuary. They are humble, dedicated people of all walks of life who recognise the need to answer the humanitarian catastrophe before us, with practical support that will make life easier along the way.
On Monday UK Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron and Scottish Leader Willie Rennie joined me in visiting them and lending a hand. Embarrassingly each of us made the ‘rookie mistake’ of loading a box, taping it up, weighing it logging it, and then forgetting what the contents were- requiring us to break back into the box- to start the process again. However, we soon got the hang of it and put in a decent shift.
The scale of the operation is mind boggling, and the sheer tonnage of what they’ve already shipped out is incredible. But then so too is the scale of the human exodus that is currently working its way across the Med and into points of entry across the Southern frontiers of the European Union. This is a group of volunteers who represent the Scottish philanthropic tradition at its finest, but they are few in number and are always looking for volunteers of any age. So, if you can scrawl a number on a box and wield a package tape dispenser, they will put you to work.
For Americans, Black Friday and the Thanksgiving holiday have become rolled up in the same celebration. A time to remember an exodus long ago where displaced people found sanctuary away from religious persecution. Sound familiar? And when you boil it down, black Friday in Scotland is about finding stuff to put in boxes which you then give to people you care about. The troopers at Edinburgh Direct Aid already get that- but they need our help.
Details of how to volunteer with Edinburgh Direct Aid can be found on their website here.