5 Things You'll Find on a Refugee's Shopping List

February 1, 2021

A shopping list is compiled of necessities and desires. You might need more paper towels but you might want to buy dessert for that evening just because it sounds good at the moment. The needs and wants are specifically tailored to you as a shopper, so everyone's shopping list is different. Your lifestyle can also affect these lists– think about your financial ability, cultural norms, and acquired taste. These are 5 typical things that you'll find on a refugee’s shopping list.


The meditteranean climate of Lesvos, Greece includes hot and dry summers with cold and wet winters. Coming from countries like Syria or Afghanistan, some refugees might already be adjusted to the new climate. The families that come from other countries with different climates may need the help of things like sunscreen to help protect their skin and adjust to the Greek climate. These items are not requested by everyone, but those who request it have a specific need for it. They can also help safeguard refugees against future medical conditions and visits to doctors - lessening stress on the family and their new country’s health systems to pay for medical bills.

Summers in the mediterannean climate of Lesvos are hot, dry, and very sunny.

Cell Phone

A cell phone provides the family with safety, communication, and education. Language barriers can be difficult in emergency situations. Locating nearby health facilities and using translation functions to accurately communicate things like symptoms or need for medical attention for prior conditions can all be processed with the help of a cell phone. Fractured families rely on cell phone communication to reconnect with their spouses, children, parents, etc. Once they have safely arrived in Lesvos, they can then try to contact the rest of their families that have either fled elsewhere or are still residing in their home country. 

While most families already have 1-2 cell phones upon arrival, they may have been damaged, traded, or otherwise compromised during travel. Additionally, some of our families have requested cell phones for other members of their family like mothers or adult daughters, expanding the autonomy they have to leave home, communicate with family, and attend school/work. COVID-19 has skyrocketed the demand for online entertainment. Even books, an educational form of entertainment, are not offered in their home language, so refugee children and adults are unable to understand them. These families are quarantined too, but many of them have limited access to any form of entertainment. A cell phone has a higher priority for a refugee than someone may think.

Tea Kettle

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, tea is the most common hot beverage in the world. Tea has a cultural significance in that it represents community, peace, and family. In a previous blog post, I interviewed our own Tech Lead at Duet named Raghav. Raghav remembers a time in Greece where a refugee family invited him to their home for some tea, to thank him for his help. The tea was poured from a tea kettle that Raghav had recognized from the website as a successful donation! A cup of tea can help give a new house the feeling of being a home. These kettles are also a staple for cleaning water and other cooking functions, but are often a comforting reminder of their home countries.

The United Nations World Food Program wrote an article explaining the significance of tea to refugee families all over the world.


Due to obvious sanitation reasons, underwear is not something that people can donate often. Second hand underwear is not an option, so for refugees looking for aid, underwear is something that needs to be bought brand new from a store. For women, menstrual health and cleanliness puts an extra need for clean pairs of underwear. For a family relying on donated clothes, underwear is often a forgotten necessity. 


One of the first item requests through Duet was a handbag that a woman wanted to carry her asylum papers and conceal her few valuables at the same time. The journey from their home country to Lesvos, Greece often does not allow for refugees to bring most of their belongings. With minimal identification, it is important to always carry these valuable documents with them at all times and a backpack is the best way to do this. Not only do they need to carry their belongings, but refugees go to school too. Both children and adults spend a lot of time taking advantage of educational resources offered by local NGOs and government schools where available, and a backpack enables them to do it properly.

These items, as well as the other items on our website have a wide range in prices due to the wide range of benefits that each item can provide a family. While a cell phone is a bigger donation than maybe a toothbrush, it is important to see the perspective of the refugee requesting these items to know how valuable they can be. Whether it be something small or big, anyone can help donate a necessity to another family.