The Oasis working week always kicks off at 10:30 sharp on Monday mornings with the clothing room programme. This week it was children's clothing room day. Neal and I often comment how amazed we are that such a tiny, crowded room can be transformed so quickly from apparent chaos into a nicely presented little 'kiddies clothing store' as the small group of dedicated staff and volunteers work together in perfect unity!
Rails and racks of men's clothing that had been left in the room from the previous week are hurriedly whisked away into temporary storage in one of the video rooms, while boxes upon boxes of children's clothing are brought up from the basement, unpacked and sorted into their different genres and sizes.
Baby clothes are carefully hung on the tiniest of hangers in one corner of the room while in another, a gazillion of pairs of socks are checked for signs of wear (in which case they are discarded), paired up and placed in the appropriate 'sock box.' Items of underwear, hats, gloves and scarves, warm sweaters, shirts, jeans and coats are all carefully checked (do the zips work? are the pockets empty?) and hung on rails or displayed in plastic boxes according to size.
As all this is happening, another volunteer is on his knees unloading boxes of children's shoes and winter boots, once again checking for wear and tear, giving them a bit of spit and polish if needed, before placing them in size order on shoes racks at both ends of the room.
In the hallway, another volunteer is happily laying out a myriad useful non-clothing items that have been donated. Things like towels, bedding, curtains, kitchenware are always popular with the mums. And there's always a good selection of quality toys, fluffy animals and kiddies books that families can take with them as they leave.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen someone else is busily brewing the now-famous Oasis speciality spiced chai tea and filter coffee in big stainless steel urns. Another volunteer is heaping tablespoons of sugar into dozens of mugs ready to serve to the particularly sweet-toothed refugees - always very welcome especially on the cold winter afternoons we've been experiencing recently.
Other workers are in the main meeting room which is quickly being set up as an orderly waiting room. Depending on numbers attending (as many as 80-90 refugees arrive looking for clothing here on a Monday) it can be a very long wait! Rows of chairs are set out, a carpeted play area for the smaller kiddies is organised, and a couple of 'colouring-in' tables are set with freshly sharpened colouring pencils and paper, ready for anyone who wants to pass an hour or too drawing or doodling while they wait.
By midday everything is generally ship-shape and we head upstairs to the staff kitchen area to grab a bite to eat. Then it's back downstairs to pray together before opening the main doors at 1:30pm.
This Monday we served around 35 families - most of these with multiple children! The clothing room itself is only big enough to take 4-5 people at a time, so while some of us helped mums to chose clothing for their little ones, the remaining volunteers mingled with the waiting crowd, chatting, serving tea and snacks, playing with the kiddies and just loving on people. We had quite a large group from Russian-speaking countries this week, and a similar-sized group of Arabic speakers. Neal is always a favourite with the children and this week he kept them happily occupied by playing endless ' tea party' games with them.
Mondays are always a great opportunity to start building relationships with newly-arrived refugees, making them feel welcome and relaxed. Sometimes God opens doors in our conversations to share a little about why we do what we do, about Jesus and His love for them. We always give every family a programme printed in their mother tongue, and invite them to visit us again for the free German language classes and our evangelistic programmes on Wednesdays and Thursdays - and praise God many of them do!