19/07/2017 06:41 BST | Updated 19/07/2017 08:58 BST

How We're Turning Grenfell Donations Into Cash For Victims

British Red Cross

In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, dozens of people started to arrive at the local rest centres with bottles of water, bags of bedding, clothing, children's toys, anything they could muster to help those who had lost everything.

Very quickly, those dozens of people turned into a community, then a city, and before the day was out the whole country was donating items to the fire victims. Everyone wanted to do something to help. It was a huge spontaneous response to what has been one of the UK's worst peacetime disasters.

Many of those donated items were immediately given to victims; people who had fled their homes with nothing could get hold of the very basics - toiletries, clothing, shoes and much more besides. The Westway Sports Centre, not far from the tower, soon became the focal point of the response.

The amount of donations that flooded in was so incredible that even on the morning of the fire some community centres had to stop accepting goods. The council offered the town hall for the donations and a space for community volunteers to sort through items.

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In the end, even the town hall wasn't enough and proper warehousing was found. The total amount donated reached 40,000 boxes, an estimated 174 tonnes, or in other words, enough donations to cover three football pitches. It is truly an immense amount of donations and when you see the boxes in the warehouse it takes your breath away. We have never seen anything like it.

The donations were a lifeline and they are still helping to replenish the supplies at the Westway Centre. But when the quantity of donations reaches beyond the amount that can be distributed, you need a practical solution that still enables those donations to fulfil their purpose - to help people affected by the fire. The British Red Cross launched #ShopforGrenfell to help turn excess donations into much-needed cash.

Before embarking on this scheme, we listened to the views of community groups on what to do with the excess donations. We've also been listening to the views of people on social media. We spent a great deal of time considering all options before settling on the #ShopforGrenfell plan. It is the only way to ensure that excess donations still benefit the people they were intended to help.

Since the end of June, Red Cross volunteers have been working alongside community volunteers to sort through the excess donations at a London warehouse. They are separating out new items, which are given straight to the Grenfell community, and the second-hand items, which are going to be sold in British Red Cross shops.

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One hundred per cent of the money raised from the sale of these items goes to our London Fire Relief Fund - money for the victims of the fire.

It's a huge operation, but so far half the donations have been cleared: 62 tonnes have been sorted and 27 tonnes are either in shops, or en route to be sold to help raise funds. Some 10 tonnes of new goods, mostly clothes, toiletries and bedding, have been sent back to the Westway Centre so people can collect what they need. As soon as supplies start to run low, there are 66 supermarket cages of extra goods ready to go.

So what happens to the money that we make from the sale of these items? All donations are marked 'Shop for Grenfell' in our shops so 100 per cent of the money raised from the sale of these items can be allocated to our London Fire Relief Fund.

The London Emergencies Trust is distributing money from the Fund - around £158,000 has already been given out. This money is helping survivors and families who have been bereaved or injured by this horrific fire. The Trust has received around 50 applications for funds in the last week alone, and 64 in the last fortnight.

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We know that on the ground among the wider Grenfell community, people are worried about what's happening with the donations. We know there are questions about who gave us the right to move them, and whether the people they were meant for are benefiting.

We can answer them directly: Kensington and Chelsea council asked us to sort the excess items. We accepted because it is something we can do to help. We promise that every penny raised by selling the items in our shops will go directly into the victim fund.

We will do everything in our power to help the people affected by the terrible, terrible disaster at Grenfell Tower. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those affected, and will support in any way we can.

People affected by the fire can apply for the funds via the British Red Cross support line on 0800 458 9472 (open 8am - 8pm)