Published: 11:05, 24 December 2020
| Updated: 20:44, 24 December 2020
Inventive villagers are ensuring truckers stuck in Operation Stack don't go hungry - by lowering bags of food to them from bridges over the M20.
Kind-hearted residents from Mersham near Ashford are using a rope and bags for life to deliver goods including beans, fruit and sweets to stranded lorry drivers.
And husband-and-wife team Jan and David James have gone one step further by walking along the carriageway to dish out the donations by hand.
The pair climbed over a barrier close to Junction 10a and walked down a set of steps on the embankment to reach the road.
They are part of a group of residents - which also includes Jackie and Peter Bates - who have been collecting the goods for the HGV drivers this week.
Mersham is just a stone's throw from part of the M20 between Junction 10a for Ashford and 11 for Hythe, where hauliers have been held since the French government imposed the UK travel ban on Sunday night.
Mrs James - a former teacher at Ashford School - says she is proud of the village's work.
"We went round knocking on doors in Mersham asking if people had any spare food and they have been brilliant," the Cherry Glebe resident said.
"They gave us lots of food in bags and we then took it to the bridges.
"We have had tins of beans, orange juice, fruit, biscuits, crisps and corn beef - anything the lorry drivers could eat with their fingers but I think most of them have cutlery anyway."
Mrs James - whose husband is a retired bank manager - says the pair made their way onto the M20 from the bridge next to the Evegate Business Park.
"A lot of the drivers were asking us how far away Tesco was and many of them were walking to the supermarket," she added.
"If they had food, they said they were OK so we only gave it to people who were low on supplies or didn't have any.
"We ran out of food in the end but we could have gone on and on - it was just something we felt we had to do for the poor blokes.
"When we went back up the steps onto the bridge, a whole group of them clapped us - it was quite emotional."
Mrs James has lived in Mersham for 35 years and says residents regularly see drivers using the village as a rat-run to avoid queues on the A20 when Operation Stack is in force.
The 69-year-old, who has five grandchildren, says she was keen to keep the truckers' spirits up.
She added: "There was a lot of litter on the banks as we were walking past but what else are they going to do?
"I also saw just one toilet and really they could do with some more.
"There was a language barrier - all most of them could say was 'very, very thank you' but some of the French and Spanish I could pick up.
"Many of them just smiled and put their hands together to say thank you - it was wonderful."
Mrs James heaped praise on the villagers in Mersham, describing it as a "typical English village with a fantastic community spirit".
"The most important thing is that the drivers can get home to their families," she added.
"In one way you can't blame France - I think we might have done the same thing the other way around - but communication between the two countries is so important and the drivers have got to get to France to get home.
"And you can't tell me that this new variant isn't in Europe - I reckon it must be there."
Another member of the food collection group said the truckers "loved" watching the bags being lowered from the bridges.
"I just collected some bags – I didn't do much," she said.
"But I feel so sorry for them and lowering them off the bridge has been fun.
"I think they will leave Kent soon with a better impression of Mersham."
Yesterday, the GSE-owned Ashford International Truckstop, which is based on the Waterbrook Park estate, donated 1,000 grab bags to hungry truckers stuck on the M20.
The food was prepared at the Hythe Imperial Hotel and Marquis of Granby in Alkham near Dover, which are both owned by GSE.
Company chairman Darrell Healey said: "Our team at the Ashford International Truckstop knew only too well of the plight of the hundreds of lorry drivers, each one of them alone in their cabs and facing the prospect of not moving for days.
"As we all wrestle with the impact of the pandemic and with Christmas fast approaching we knew we had to help.
"I’m so proud at how our team, like others in communities across Kent, have risen to the challenge to support these drivers who stock our shelves and keep our factories operating.”
Ashford International Truckstop bosses say they have had to turn away almost 1,150 lorries over the last 10 days.
General manager Darren Smith said: "We’ve been at full capacity every night for the past two months due to the combination of the usual Christmas traffic plus the preparations of UK businesses for the end of the transition on January 1 next year.
“We all know off-road parking by HGVs is understandably unpopular locally, but hope that everybody understands the pressures that drivers are under during these difficult circumstances.
"Every driver would rather be homeward bound than stuck in Kent waiting for the borders to reopen.”
Elsewhere, the team at Domino's in Herne Bay also got involved, dishing out more than 500 pizzas in Folkestone yesterday evening.
Staff member Jack Jenkins said: "We had such a great turn-out apart from the rain, with drivers giving us such a nice smile and we really do hope it made their day just that little bit better."