15 homeless people joined our feeding centre on 6th February. Volunteers Juliet Chowdhry and Rajeshri Chouhan facing camera.
Homeless people from across London are beginning to converge at Ilford at the BACA Feeding centre every Thursday, for food, prayer and TV!
British Asian Christian Association has now been operating our homeless feeding centre since 23rd January 2020 and has seen a weekly increase in those attending after awareness of our gift has increased. The food centre however begun in a very unpleasant way when noone turned up at the inaugral event, even though we placed flyers across various feeding centres in Redbridge.
After further discussions with the Welcome Centre in Ilford who have from the outset been a vein of information, we then began to visit local feedings via other organisations such as Capstone Church who were very helpful and the Sikh group SEVA. Our team of volunteers have also been visiting the tents to the rear of Redbridge Library, behind the former Harrison Gibson store and the many homeless people around LIdl’s in Ilford in an attempt to encourage them to visit our centre and obtain a warm, hearty meal. In addition to this volunteers have been talking with homeless people and providing flyers to them at various bank machines including those as far afield as Barkingside. This seems to be working as overtime we have now built up a level of trust based on our regular friendship with the homeless community.
10 people attended our third week at the feeding centre – volunteer Liane Pibworth in bottom right corner.
The following week four homeless people responded to our invite, and the week after that 10 people and after having 15 people attend the latest event we feel we are making some good headway.
BACA for a long time (two years at least) has had a strong desire to help homeless people after first becoming aware of their large presence in Ilford during some of our public events. Read more (here).
When we began we had no idea what to expect and the project has been extremely rewarding. Every volunteer involved has built strong friendships with the homeless people attending who have shared their personal experiences quite openly. The growing mix of visitors at our centre share a variety of faiths, cultures and other diversities and despite all their hardships have been very welcoming and supporting of each other and us.
Hannah Chowdhry (16 years) has regularly volunteered and has even completed a level 2 food hygiene certificate so that she could be involved in the cooking of food at the centre, so passionate was she to help. While engaging with homeless people she discovered how ‘they are very much like the rest of us – they have similar desires and passions just no way to fulfull them.’ While talking with our visitors she offered them a chance to have meals of their choice, which smashed our original cost-saving programme of providing stew and mash. With the help of our volunteer Liane Pibworth a different meal has been offered each week including beef stroganoff with rice, chicken stew with rice and spaghetti carbonara. We are avoiding overly spicy foods as the visitors have suggested it can cause the runs. Moreover, they seem to be offered Asian food at nearly every other centre in Ilford, mainly because of a large demographic in the area and of course Sikh Langar (community kitchen) follows a very standard pattern.
Hannah Chowdhry and Liane Pibworth
Hannah also offered to install a dongle on our existing interactive whiteboard so that visitors could watch Netflix. We of course wish she had checked with us first but followed through with the idea nevertheless. The result of which was a magical moment last week, when a Glen Miller Band video was played which enticed a more elderly visitor to his feet to dance and sing while the rest of the community simply clapped and basked in his joy.
As a group we do not operate like other homeless centres and have followed the model of Capstone Church whereby we feed inside our hall and do not leave visitors in the cold, by simply feeding them as they wait outside. This increases our work as we have to sanitise our tables and our plastic chairs (hence we do not use our cloth-padded chairs) after use. Sadly this does mean we will need to purchase more plastic chairs soon as we have reached our capacity of 15. If you can help with helping us get more chairs please contact us or donate (here) the cost of each chair is £12 and estimate a need for 30. We would like to gain new plastic fold up chairs as they take up less space and are easy to clean.
Accounts shared by visitors of the trigger toweards their homelessness include details of brutal home lives, loss of jobs, and health conditions. Those who have escaped rough sleeping, have clarified that it was always through human contact that they were able to refind love for themselves and escape their situation. A common-factor for them all has been the deep depression that homlessness has brought, a growing sense of worthlessness and a social pariah status that they have no desire to escape as they see it as a fitting punishment for themselves.
John a former businessman who has escaped rough sleeping and has been rehoused explained that his situation began with a health condition that robbed him of rational thought till he began treatment. He was helped by several church organisations and eventually realised that God was putting people in his way to help him and eventually gave his life back to God and now regularly attends church. You can watch his short video (here) or in the embed below:
John has said that the role of feeding/friendship centres is important is it provides the necessary physical and emotional stamina need by homless people to begin their walk back to normality. Our God knows this and that is why he shared his parable of the Good Samaritan.
Conversations about God are often instigated when visitors realise we are a Christian organisation despite our Pakistani background and it has not put off people of other faith. Infact some of the Muslim visitors last week asked if we are serving halal food. Fortunately for us a local Muslim builder who lives near our community centre and has completed work for BACA before, had seen visitors to our centre and his wife had agreed to cook food for homeless people once a month. The food she prepared was able to cater for this minority last week and will ensure that some halal food is cooked for future visitors. Of course as a Christian organisation we do say Christian prayers before each meal and are hoping to have a few visits from local pastors and their teams including Pastor Andrew White from High Road Baptist Church at future events; to talk with, counsel and offer prayers for those who are interested. We hope some of the visitors will eventually attend High Road Baptist Church, Capstone Church, or Eden Christian Centre or other local churches. Perhaps then, they will realise the Chowdhry’s are not the only Pakistani Christian family in the UK…
Only 4 homless people attended our 2nd feeding week.
When we first began the feeding centre, we had assumed that beneficiaries would be from our local area. Within the first week we realised that some homeless people were coming from as far as Woolwich and Liverpool Street. It dawned on us that the network of homless people is quite large and that people were coming across London using their Oyster cards to get to the places where they could get food, shelter and other help. Some of the visitors have asked for help with Oyster card top-ups. We would like to build up funds to be able to offer such help and welcome your donations (here)
Our work is being recognised in the local community and we have gained two new volunteers, one a Hindu former volunteer named Rajeshri Chouhan who was moved by the story in our previous post and Mustapha a local Muslim builder whose wife has offered to cook food every 1st Thursday. The latter two heard about our work and made the offer of assistance to our group only last week. At the moment we are having to pay for the food costs for the centre ourselves while we await decision on an application to obtain free food from a charity that works with all the larger retailers and distributes to centres like us. However they have begun to make contact and we hope to complete their assessment soon. Until then we would appreciate any donations of food or the funds to continue purchasing food for these many desperate but deserving people.
You can donate to towards the various elements of our homeless feeding centre by clicking (here).