A reduction in the number of groups providing food for the homeless in Ilford has meant that some of them go a day or more without food. Local groups have shut their premises and stop serving for a number of reasons, including fears of being infected and the loss of volunteers who are self-isolating.
One local group has been waiting for clearer government guidance and after a conversation with BACA, may be collaborating with us on a feeding project every Sunday. Our ability to adapt to the new guidelines is proving to be very beneficial locally.
To be compliant with existing government guidelines, BACA has had to transform the way we operate several times.
When cooking the food we ensured that our cooking temperatures were above 70 degrees centigrade. Of course handwashing was a constant in the food preparation, cooking and and packaging of the food. Our kitchen is adapted for such work and complies with our level 5 rating. All those who cook at our centre are qualified to the level 2 certificate in food hygiene.
For the first time since we began our feeding project however, we took to the streets. By obtaining permission from local pub-landlord David Christof of the Prince of Wales Pub, we set-up in his car park, which is currently not in use due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
While there we brought out a table from our community centre, which we disinfected before use and served pre-prepared food boxes. Finally to ensure the safety of those who were waiting in a queue we ensured that they all maintained a gap of 6ft. We asked them to scatter across two sides of the road rather than just a well spaced single-file line.
All the visitors who now know and trust us well complied with the request. Moreover, they also dispersed at the end of the distribution and we were able to complete the whole process in around 30 minutes, having given out all of our 30 meals. After the meal we disinfected the table and returned it to our centre. We also disinfected our food carrier bag and hands.
We filmed some of our operation which can be watched (here) or in the embed below:
After the meals at the pub location we delivered a further 4 meals to different homeless people including the 3 tents to the rear of Redbridge library, as the alcohol-addicted people we serve there have severe health conditions and were asked by doctors to self-isolate.
This is an older image of the men who we delivered food to at their tent – no images were taken last night.
We also received a call from a Pakistani Muslim man who had been given our details by Council staff in Peckham, who had heard of our work. This was quite a surprise as we have only been in operation since January but our reputation obviously precedes us. Tahir Hasim has been living in the UK for 17 years and has been working as a cook, but recently found himself without a home and any income. Unable to find work because of his homelessness, he has eked out a life by reaching out to support groups.
When we invited him to join us at our ‘Meals for the Homeless’ project he refused to come, primarily because he is 65 years-old and has several health conditions including diabetes. Also he is currently staying in a hut in a scrap yard which is dirty and has a rotten old mattress in but it keeps him safe from attack and lets him self-isolate. He has been given the keys to the chain that locks the yard and acts as a security officer without pay, in exchange for accommodation in the filthy hut. We have not yet ascertained, if the hut had a toilet facility or sink but he does have access to a camping stove and he is able to cook. Our conversations have been relatively basic with him, but he does not at this point seem to be fearful of the landowner and it does seem to be a mutually agreeable situation – he does not seem to be under any duress.
After providing a meal on the Thursday, we have met with him on Friday to provide some rice and pulses so he can feed himself for a while. Today we also provided him with some tea bags , milk, sugar and eggs. We intend to continue monitoring his situation and will provide him with pathways to other help if necessary.
One of the previous groups who were feeding the homeless prior to the COVID-19 pandemic visited our event to watch how we ran our project. The leader of that particular project spoke with us today and we hope to be collaborating with them at our location on Sunday which will provide an additional day of support to the beleaguered and frightened local homeless community.
At this juncture we would like to give thanks to Tesco Metro in Collier Row who have been providing us with free food for our local food bank, and some of the ingredients for our ‘meals for the homeless’ project.
Juliet Chowdhry, said:
“Our work with the homeless though relatively new to the area, is already being recognised for its community value
“That is because we have always taken input from the end-users who have learned to trust and and want to make this project work.
“We are now feeding close to 30 people every week and that number is growing despite the COVID-19 pandemic, because many of our visitors have no other option.
“With the loss of many groups who took on similar work for this vulnerable community, our work has become more essential.
“We assess our operation every week and will continue to help our clients, until the government prohibits us.
“The Local and national police and our local authority are kept abreast of our work – so we can ensure it continues to be safe and unhampered.
We are only able to serve the needy in our community because of the kind donations of our supporters. Never have we needed your support more than during this pandemic. We pray more of you are moved to give towards our growing body of work and encourage you to donate (here), so that we can continue to serve the many desperate people across London who attend our ‘Meals for the homeless’ project.