Afghanistan: Emsworth veteran-turned-volunteer recounts moment he delivered donations to refugees
An RAF veteran has launched a community group to support Afghan refugees.
Set up by Emsworth resident Matt Simmons, 41, Ems4Afghans provides a task force in support of other agencies and evacuees from Afghanistan.
The group, which has volunteers 'right from Bognor Regis to Southampton', was 'inundated' with thousands of donated items of clothing, toys, toiletries and other 'essential items', just three weeks after it was formed.
"It's been amazing," Matt said. "I started it out with a view of having a donation point in Emsworth Baptist Church.
"I wanted it to push it with my passion. I felt such heartbreak with what was going on.
"It was breaking my heart and I wanted to do something.
"It's gained so much momentum, it's been brilliant."
Matt, who served in the RAF as an airframe technician — working on Chinooks — said the standout moment after setting the group up came when he was contacted by an interpreter in quarantine at a local hotel with other Afghan families.
"He was a British interpreter who had worked for the army," Matt said.
"Lots of them had been in same clothes for four weeks.
"Local schools have done care packs in shoe boxes. Rainbows and Brownies have done toiletry packs."
Matt said he and the other volunteers went to the main hub and 'put as much as we could in two cars' to take to the hotel.
He added: "We spent two hours with them. My children played with their children.
"It just cemented what we should be focusing on. It was a warm welcome in action.
"You could sense when we walked into the hotel, they had a massive smile on their face. Immediately, the uplift was incredible.
"The council staff there thought it was amazing.
"The children were laughing, smiling and all playing together. There were no barriers, apart from the language."
The moment was encapsulated by a heartwarming picture of two babies looking at each other — one was a child of a volunteer and the other an Afghan infant.
Matt said: "That picture alone is so powerful.
"This is what we should be doing. It's a warm welcome and shows we respect each others cultures."
Matt is 'building new contacts every day' and hopes the project will be long-term.
He added: "It's gone further than I could ever imagine.
"There is still lots more to come
'We are going in the right direction."
Find out more by visiting the group's Facebook page or on Twitter at @Ems4Afghans.