British Asian Christian Association has been running our ‘Meals for the Needy’ project since 23rd January 2020 (click here).
The project initially began as table-seated event and at our peak we had over 21 people attending within 2 months of beginning our project (click here).
Many homeless, however believe our outreach began much earlier when we conducted a series of monthly community events under the title of Redbridge Festival in Ilford Town Centre (click here). The events united many local churches of varying denominations in a programme of community action and prayer (click here). The events ensured monthly healings took place in Ilford town centre and most months people were saved and gave their life to Christ. Some of the events had an interfaith harmony aspect as we sought to improve local community peace (click here).
This work and our organising and leading the Redbridge Carnival and Redbridge Easter Parade brought our attention to the burgeoning homeless community in Ilford (click here). They would interact with us during our varied activities.
We found many of our homeless brothers and sisters were seeking someone to talk to, they found life on the streets isolating and had a deep sense of loneliness. There was also a great deal of hunger in the community.
When our community stalls at Redbridge Festival had free food local homeless visitors would sit with us at a table and share food and company. Many not all were open to discussing the Bible and were willing to receive prayer. Fewer still, but a sizeable amount were willing to accept a Gideons Bible which we had in various languages thanks to two local chapters.
“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4
So we prayerfully embarked on our challenge to bring the homeless to a tabled meal event at Clementswood Community Centre. Initially we engaged with all the local homeless meals groups and decided on a day to serve that did not clash with other groups.
Hannah Chowdhry our 16 year old project Manager, undertook 9 on-line vocational courses, ranging from Food Safety Level 3, Risk Assessment, Safeguarding Level 3, and more and wrote our food safety manual. She must have got things right as we achieved a 5 star food hygiene rating for our kitchen, via Redbridge Council first time of asking (click here). She also initiated a successful Teenage Chill-Out-Lounge (click here).
No visitors came to our first event as we were relying on other groups to share information on our project. The next week only 4 arrived and it was very disheartening for our group. We prayed about it and asked God if this was a direction he wanted us to undertake and unanimously God spoke to our group and Hannah Chowdhry, reminded us of the success we had at our events, she quoted Matthew 25:40. Hannah was only 16 at the time and inspired by God a child who was baptized at 13 years of age, after church deacons decided she was old enough to understand scripture and the depth of such a commitment (click here).We all understood we were being called to this work (click here).
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
From that day onwards our outreach process altered, Juliet and Hannah Chowdhry began reaching out to the homeless where they lived, at shopping centre and council car parks, behind Ilford Exchange, at Romford by the river, by Ilford Library – the numbers of our attendees increased rapidly.
We soon discovered that not everyone who was attending our meals were homeless. Some of the visitors were simply lonely and found the atmosphere at our meal service and across various places offering hot meals for the homeless as pleasant. Allcomers were willing to let us pray before meals and some even offered to pray.
Then disaster struck COVID-19 meant that homeless meal centre’s across Redbridge stopped. Except for ours!
When the lockdown first came into place we were permitted to hold meals in our community centre by socially distancing individuals and not having tables. We did this for one week but the Government then tightened measures on businesses open to the public.
Hannah Chowdhry managed to devise an outdoor risk assessment that was approved by Redbridge Council who even provided us with 40 traffic cones to socially distance people as the queued in the Prince of Wales Car Park. We struggled with buying food for our hot meals but managed to provide hot meals every day through carefully managed schedules (some of us had to queue for up to 5 hours on rota! [click here]).
Homeless people on the first day of our outdoor service described their struggles obtaining food and asked if we could fill more days in a week. So we began a twice daily hot meals and food bank programme (after registering with Neighbourly and Fareshare), 65 people a day began visiting. Furthermore we were helping an additional 30 people in self-isolation due to health conditions (click here) or elderly age (click here).
Even better the increased visibility of our service meant local people and people who travelled past began donating clothes, food, sanitary and other household products (click here). We were no longer just serving the homeless but refugees, asylum-seekers, the economically deprived and new migrants too. Better still, they also began to interact with one another and a newly created social hub removed COVID-loneliness. Visitors have actively told us their mental health has improved through our efforts.
3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,”
4 “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Of course not everyone could cope with the loneliness of COVID-19 and when one of our regular visitors committed suicide, it was a deeply emotional experience for many. We called Pastor Andrew White from Ilford High Road Baptist Church, who prayed with people. He visited frequently after that and helped with prayer requests and counselling (click here). In total we had 9 Pastors/Vicars/Priests and Elders provide support to our services during the COVID-19 period.
Local shops, schools and businesses wanted to get involved (click here), churches, mosques (click here) and Temples too (click here), we brought together a whole community. Though quite new to serving homeless people during the pandemic our service became quite pivotal to the local area (click here).
Redbridge Council had to close many of their offices but had to fulfill requirements to house all homeless people in their borough, to protect them from infection. We became an authorised referer for a while, as Rydale House struggled to find all the local homeless people. We became responsible for introducing 27 homeless people to the housing scheme all of whom were safely housed. We even mediated for a banned deeply apologetic homeless man who realised his abusive behaviour was wrong and was reintroduced back to a home despite initially receiving a permanent ban.
While we are on the topic of bad behaviour, we also share how we helped a homeless man who was in temporary COVID-19 accommodation, extricate himself from a £150 charge for throwing a cigarette butt on the floor which he could not have paid anyway. He offered to do free cleaning work in exchange but the council also let him off from that aspect because of health and safety issues. But the apologetic and remorseful visitor was very much willing to offer his time (click here).
After the lockdown ended we were able to return to our community centre but instead of reverting go tabled-melas we decided to continue with the boxed provision of hotmeals. It was felt we could distribute to more visitors and that the overall costs for such a service would be vastly reduced (click here).
Soon the NHS heard about our outstanding work and sought permission to undertake hepatology tests and provide treatment from our centre (click here). We duly obliged and even gave them their own space (click here). Westminster drug project also joined us and began to provide free counselling and drug rehabilitation services, later also providing lateral flow tests for COVID-19 (click here).
Hannah Chowdhry was recognised for her efforts with a Rotary International Young Citizen Award (click here), She appeared on BBC News (click here). We were also recognised by the London Faith and Belief Awards (click here).
In march 2020, Hannah Chowdhry also wrote a comparison of homelessness in Ilford from the 1920’s to modern age. A report that was published in the Ilford Historical Society Magazine making Hannah the youngest ever contributor. You can read a copy (here)
Of course our work has continued since COVID-19 and we returned to our community centre.
Now we serve new migrants from Afghanistan (click here) and (here), Ukraine (click here) and wider. Details of our services our shared by local groups including refugee support groups, council departments and charities helping with homeless. Around 45 people are served hot meals and a food bank every Thursday, Friday and Saturday (click here).
Working with other charities, we are able to also give clothes foods and other products (click here), in addition to this whatever is left is sent to Pakistan to help deprived Christians there (click here). We also provide over 50 meals to the Malachi Project run by the Salvation Army once a week (click here).
We celebrate Christian Festivals with our homeless community (click here), (here) and (here). Our intent has always been to ensure that homeless people do not lose their identity, feel they are a part of society in general and in our local community in particular. For this purpose we also held a celebration for the Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee (click here).
We were even on hand to be able to provide solace for many homeless people who wanted to share their grief for the loss of Queen Elizabeth II(click here).
Over the last two years we are seeing a growing number of students who are volunteering, especially those requiring a Community Service credit for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (click here), Jack Petchey Awards (click here) and Yoni Jesner Awards.
Our future looks good too as our partners have increased and now include 6 restaurants, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Greggs, local churches, Catholic societies, mosques, temples and people from the local community (click here). With your help we can become even more sustainable.
BACA has seen a growth in visitors since the economy has worsened. We are now seeing up to 45 people a day but have lost some of our partners due to personal reasons and finance. The impact our work has had in our community has been phenomenal and we believe God is in control. That said we could not operate without the generosity of our donors and if you would like to commit something towards this work you can do so by clicking (here). One of the capital items we are desperately trying to obtain is an electric vehicle as soaring fuel costs limit our operation – please pray for our success with this aim.
We replicate similar services in Ukraine in the city of Odessa where the economy has taken a real bashing due to the ongoing War with Russia. This service costs £500 a m0nth. Our money also supports their outreach programme during these desperate times and purchases Bibles.
We are also undertaking similar work in Thailand with Pak-Christian asylum seekers who are illegal even with UNHCR registration, due to the nation having not ratified UN conventions on asylum (click here). In recent months we have changed our service to now provide cash instead of food, as bulk buying yielded no discount and it enables our beneficiaries to choose their desired foodstuffs or sanitary items (click here). This service costs £350 a month but we would like to reach more disenfranchised Pak-Christians. There are thousands of asylum seekers that need our support and we help very few but trust God will enable us to do more.
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