It was a case of Chelsea and Scintilla Cricket club providing a sporting theme as our One Soup Kitchen hit the streets to enjoy our weekly catch up with London’s homeless citizens.
The heavens had opened. It was cold, bleak and miserable in London Town. Traffic on the A13 was bad and I did well to get there 15 minutes past our scheduled start time. Routine is very important in the work we do. At Stratford we have homeless friends waiting for our arrival. They know the drill. They’re hungry, needy and cold, and this is often the only bit of sunshine in their lives all week. I know so, because they tell me so.
The One Third team operates two soup kitchens: one at the Stratford Centre and one at Booth House, Whitechapel. We are all volunteers and mostly fund this through our own resources and goodwill gestures.
Our homeless friends were all lined up next to Starbucks. Some of the regulars were missing, and Paul was very late tonight. Luckily Mahanur had a takeaway ready for him.
As soon as the soup kitchen hit Stratford Town Centre, the outlook had well and truly changed. It started with a comical moment as an older European gentleman made a smash and grab for half a dozen water bottles. The encounter set the mood for the shift – laughter all round.
Best of all we had with us former Chelsea star and my good friend Paul Canoville serving up a right treat. Paul has hit rock bottom in life and dragged himself right up, and it was fantastic to have the support of the Paul Canoville Foundation tonight. “It’s been tremendous,” said Paul. “It’s on my doorstep too and I can’t believe that such a rich nation like ours can have a situation like this. I fell blessed to have played a part here tonight and I will be back.”
Canners is spot on. When I look into the eyes of homeless friends I can sense their pride and sheer helplessness. It’s important to reassure them first that this is a goodwill gesture, not charity, and then remind them that absolutely anyone in our great city can find themselves in the very same situation in less than three easy steps.
Ayaz and Ani had cooked and brought over an amazing prawn bhuna in a huge pot, which was accompanied with a side of lentils. The aroma took over the town centre and I received complimentary comments from shoppers, revellers and tourists. I was confident that there would be plenty of leftovers and the Scintilla Cricket Club boys, Zisan, Juwel, Ashraful and I, plotted to have a party afterwards.
Alas this was not to be. The team couldn’t keep up with the sheer numbers of homeless friends who just kept coming. We rarely run short and Hafsa dished up the last portion, a takeaway for Amanda, before we packed up. Canners fared better with some nifty wing play. Being the slick fox he is, Chelsea’s first ever black footballer had a small taster session earlier – and later protested he had no more stomach room as he had delicious dumplings waiting at home. I did a Mark Dennis, gave him a knowing look and a light dig in the ribs.
It’s important to clean up and make a quick exit after soup kitchen is over as it’s awkward if any late visitors arrive and we have nothing to offer them.
After a few selfies, we all bid goodbye. The Scintilla Cricket Club boys want to do it again. Hafsa is planning a food rota and Canners has called to discuss further. My friends are beyond amazing. They rally round and get stuck in and I’m honoured to serve with them. Each time they enrich lives and educate at the same time.
If you surround yourself with good people then climbing steep mountains is easy. God bless!