Supporting The Homeless (All Year Long)
There are so many reasons to love the festive season, the food, the songs, the siestas… Of course it’s also a great time for family, friends and communities to come together and show each other that they care.
It’s no surprise that at this time of year, volunteering efforts sky-rocket, and those who are more fortunate give back to those more vulnerable. And of course, this is an incredible thing. But it got us thinking, volunteering isn’t just for Christmas, is it? So, how can we make sure those who need support are getting it all year round? We spoke with Sarah from Refettorio Felix, a local charity that depends on its volunteers, to find out more.
Can you tell us about Refettorio Felix? How did it all get started?
Refettorio Felix is a charity that supports homeless and vulnerable adults in Earl's Court, London. We serve high quality and delicious three course meals which are made entirely from surplus food. We used to be a small soup kitchen in a church hall and three years ago we were chosen by Michelin-starred Italian chef, Massimo Bottura and his charity ‘Food For Soul’ to become one of the growing number of Refettorios to open worldwide.
Three times a week we take deliveries of surplus and unwanted ingredients from the Felix Project (the largest collector of surplus food in London) and our two resident chefs transform it into a high quality three-course meals every day. Our volunteers then serve these to our guests, on proper plates, with proper cutlery and on proper tables. Our aim is to provide social inclusion through food and the act of sitting and eating with others in a friendly environment.
Who do you support on a day-to-day basis? What are their backgrounds? And how does Refettorio Felix help them?
We have people from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are rough sleepers, some have mental health conditions, some are lonely and some are elderly. Some people choose to sleep rough, others want to be housed and we help them with this. Some are socially isolated and the centre is a familiar place for them with familiar faces – this is their regular lunch-time spot.
Essentially, we offer help to whoever wants it, and if lunch is all our guests want, we ask no questions.
Does demand for your services vary throughout the year?
Oddly, summer seems to be our busiest period. Partly because most of the centres in the Earl's Court area close in August so there is nowhere else for people to go. Christmas can be one of our quietest times as there are so many other organisations offering help at this time.
You have 347 volunteers in your community. Can you tell us a bit about them?
We have many volunteers from many different backgrounds, some come regularly and others sporadically. We have both individual volunteers and corporate groups. Many companies now support their employees interest in volunteering by allocating a certain number of paid days to this – which is great! We’re definitely noticing a positive difference from this.
How do they support you? And what makes a great volunteer?
Every day we’re open, we need two volunteers in the kitchen and about six to serve. Some of the regular volunteers forge friendships with the guests and other people like to keep their distance (emotionally) – it's up to the individual. I think the people who engage with our clients are the most successful though.
What advice would you give to our grads who want to do more to support the homeless?
All homeless charities need volunteers – but what they need from their volunteers can vary enormously. I think the best thing they can do is to contact the individual charities they wish to support and find out exactly what they need, or how they could help.
Thanks to Sarah for sharing her experience in supporting those less fortunate. We hope you’re inspired to make a positive impact this festive season (and beyond)!