David Grubb's conscience was clear, though I teased him unmercifully. 'If I can lay hands on the Sun's pounds 50,000, no matter how they made it, and turn it into pounds 150,000-worth of clothes, blankets, toys, food and medicines to help refugees in Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia through the winter, why should I feel ashamed? Let the Sun feel ashamed while I turn bad money into good.'

So the paper's 'Squidgy-tape' money that the NSPCC turned down would have been grabbed by Feed the Children. However, Mr Grubb, who wrote asking for the money, will not now get the chance. The Sun has decided that 'charity begins at home' and invited readers to give deserving names to its new Care Club and 'bring a little light into some people's lives.'

But from what I saw during a comprehensive tour of Feed the Children premises in Reading, Mr Grubb's boast that he can double their - or your - money by energetic and intelligent procurement of goods, and deliver them safely into the hands of those who need them, is no more than God's truth.

Far be it from me to agree with the recent remark by a churchman that only Christians go the last mile for goodness, but I must say Mr Grubb is going more than a mile for his. Once a week he sends, and sometimes accompanies, one or more of Feed the Children's 20-tonners (as he calls his lorries) on the 1,000-mile trek to the villages and refugee camps of Bosnia and Slovenia. And, although newish to the scene, the staff are decidedly not amateurs in the relief-agency business.

Feed the Children started in the pulpit of an evangelical church in Oklahoma City about 10 years ago. David Grubb introduced it to Britain two-and-a-half years ago and since then has sent aid to Kurds, Albanians, Romanians, Bulgarians and now the victims of the war in the former Yugoslavia. I met him when he addressed a meeting of a small, mainly Jewish, ad hoc committee trying to find ways to help the refugees.

I was preparing to join a 'mercy dash' to bring out some children, so I didn't care to hear him saying that bringing people out was a bad idea. The messages became mixed, however, when in the same breath he went on to describe the conditions in which refugees are living, deprived of shelter food, clothes, power and medical supplies, and often subjected to all the dangers and horrors of war.

'At best, imagine your local sports hall or leisure centre,' he said. 'Now put hundreds of traumatised people in there and smash all the windows. Then tell the townspeople they can't use their sports hall because it's full of refugees. It's a recipe for misery.'

And there were many worse off than that, up in the hills or along the seashore, living in tents. Describing the harsh winter that will hit many of the displaced people within weeks, Mr Grubb said: 'If we don't get blankets to them soon, they're going to need shrouds.' Then he talked about how Feed the Children is helping.

Many well-meaning people want to truck stuff to the area, he said, but they might well transport items that are useless and, thanks to improper packing, a lot of air. David Grubb has a strong prejudice against black plastic sacks. People donate clothes and blankets and other things, often the residue of jumble sales, in these bags, which then form mountains in church halls and warehouses. Sometimes they end up being destroyed because there is no one to deal with them properly.

'Things must be sorted, and they must be properly, methodically packed,' he said. 'This is one of the principles of our Happy Packers Guide. We sort them, pack them tight in uniform-sized boxes, put them on wooden pallets, shrink-wrap them for added strength and security, and load them so there's not an inch of space wasted in the trucks.

'And some of the things that are needed, and not needed, may surprise you. It's no good sending jeans and T-shirts to Muslim areas. It is no use sending heavily worn women's clothing or men's shoes, or anything but brand-new underwear to places where middle-class refugees are. They have their customs and their pride.'

'But if they're going to die,' I objected, 'are you saying we not only have to leave them there, but send them only nearly new clothes?'

'Really]' said one very middle-class voice, 'I dressed all my children in second-hand clothes, and I wear jumble-sale clothing myself]'

David Grubb smiled. 'It's hard to describe how important certain things become when your whole life has been turned upside down and you have nothing,' he explained. 'Major needs go beyond the bare essentials of life. There are the things that make it possible to continue living with a little dignity and not to go mad from boredom. We need knitting wool, tools and, above all, toys for the children. If you don't give children the means to play, they will vegetate. We're desperate for crayons, for instance.'

The next day I went down to Reading. I wanted to see how this 'proper' packing was done, as our committee aimed to collect clothes and blankets. It made sense not to transport air. David found me arranging food parcels according to a strict methodology: rice at the bottom, then broth mix, then two packets of sugar, then flour, then a soft bag of salt, which could just be squeezed into the remaining space.

He gave me a tour. The clothes-

and-miscellaneous warehouse was separate from the food one. It looked chaotic but, it was not. There were aisles and shelves and hoppers and rows of regulation boxes a meter square, made to contain washing machines - the factory gave them free. Into them are packed children's clothes, women's clothes, men's clothes ('Very scarce - men wear their clothes till they fall to bits]'), children's shoes, wellies, blankets, overcoats ('desperately needed'). There are family clothes' parcels, too, based on a father, a mother and six children.

Mr Grubb showed me many other things: kitchen utensils, pharmaceuticals, toys, bundles of socks and boys' pants. Yes, brand new. They had been procured from the manufacturers at a fraction of their wholesale cost. 'If you can make a bulk offer, you can get twice the value of your money in goods. That's how we can promise to double your contribution, or better.'

There was a room full of tents, right up to the ceiling. 'From Eurocamp,' David explained. 'They advertise that none of their tents is more than two years old. After that they used to burn them - mountains of them - imagine the pollution] We stopped that. Now they give them to us: poles, groundsheets, everything.'

The most unexpected thing was a room full of children's swings, still packed. 'Are men struggling for survival going to take time to erect these?'

'Probably not. We'll do it.'

'You go right in, do you, rather than just hand things over at the border?'

'At the border? If we did that, how could we promise donors that the stuff would be delivered safely? We hand things over only to those who will use them. We insist on it. If they won't let us, we drive away again.'

'Isn't it dangerous, going right into the war zones?'

'The United Nations is supposed to protect us, but sometimes our drivers - two are former paras - get a bit lost and go racing through no-go areas . . . We give them bombs-and-bullets insurance and flak jackets. There have been a few close shaves - we were hijacked once, in Albania - but things nearly always arrive where they are meant to.'

'Do you come back empty?' I asked, thinking why not fill up with people?

'We've got arrangements to carry goods commercially on the way back. That way we earn more money to take more stuff in for the children.'

he offices are papered with large-scale maps and he showed me where the lorries go, up into the mountains of Slovenia, to the villages, to the camps, right down to Split, which can be reached only by boat.

'Don't other aid agencies, such as Save the Children, mind you horning in on their territory?'

'Not a bit. We share reports, we divide up target areas. It's a huge task, and we all need all the help we can get.'

I packed some more food parcels and came away feeling thoughtful. There seems no need to come down against bringing people out of that horror. The few that can be brought out are a drop in the ocean, but as a Jewish saying goes, save a child and you save a world.

Feed the Children, 1 Priory Avenue, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire RG4 7SE, telephone 0734 464444, fax 0734 462426.

(Photograph omitted)

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