Six nights a week, and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, an army of volunteers descend on the same Birmingham roundabout. With them they bring food, clothes and bedding for those in the city who either have no home or are in temporary accommodation.
They’re helping Let’s Feed Brum, an organisation that helps provide supplies for to people who need them. But they also have a wider aim. ″Our main goal is to [reach] people who are in these situations and get them on whatever trajectory they were aiming for,” explains Hattie D’Souza.
D’Souza, one of the founding members of Let’s Feed Brum explains that conversation is her main goal. “It’s much easier to find out someone’s story if they’ve had a cup of coffee or something to eat and are warm, because if you’re not warm, if you’re hungry, if you’re tired and if you’re cold, the chances are you’re not going to be that friendly or you’re not going to be that open.”
Like so many of these programs, the people using Let’s Feed Brum come from a staggeringly diverse range of backgrounds.
“You talk to people here and genuinely some of them have been the CEOs of companies, have been their own bosses, have done everything from engineering to carpentry to teaching. They have literally all come from entirely different walks of life, but now they are seen as exactly the same by everybody around them which I find bizarre,” says Hattie.
Hundreds of volunteers tirelessly offer their time and enthusiasm for Let’s Feed Brum, alongside an army of independent restaurants in the city that have selflessly offered their food, their kitchens and their time.
Two years ago, Hattie, a PR executive, was working on a Christmas campaign for a local restaurant called Itihaas. The owner had one requirement: he wanted to do something good for the city, and he didn’t want it to be a stunt.
Hattie, who had already been volunteering with a group called Inspiration Support, put the idea forward that he could maybe help homeless people – possibly with hot food. His response was immediate.
Having cooked all the leftover food from that night, he brought it down to the group. “He said: ‘This is so easy, this is the equivalent to what gets wasted in the restaurant every night so I’ve not lost anything. It has cost me absolutely nothing to make in the grand scheme of things – I could do this one night a week, for forever.’
“True to his word, he has done one night a week for forever, but he has also managed to get loads of fantastic people on board.”
The response has been huge. An independent Spanish restaurant down the road allows Let’s Feed Brum to use their kettles to make up flasks for the walkabout team, while a coffee shop nearby provides the tea and coffee. Gabriel’s fish and chip shop and restaurant Umami drive food over from the suburbs, while large supermarkets like Tesco help donate any leftover food at the end of each day.
This support doesn’t just help Let’s Feed Brum run day to day, it also allows the group to run special events throughout the year. Many of the service users who attend either don’t know or have forgotten their birthdays; once a year the team hosts a Birthday BBQ for everyone to attend.
In addition, they focus on making bonds with the people they meet, so they can also help them make meaningful steps to getting their life back on track.
Hattie explains: “All the volunteers will have the people that they know and like, and they’ll know their backstories; the family history. They’ll know their hopes dreams and pitfalls, and can then start to help them. If you don’t have that, it’s like meeting someone at a bus stop and going what can I do? How can I help?”
By getting to know those who attend, the volunteers are then able to go above and beyond the simple (yet still vital) task of providing food and hot drink.
“We help them either by mentoring them or going to appointments with them,” explains Hattie. “We have one guy and one of our volunteers goes to his doctors appointments with him, makes him feel like nobody’s trying to do him over or make the system work against him, and lets him know that somebody has his back.”
While Hattie admits that the day-to-day can be difficult at times, Let’s Feed Brum is also making a real difference to people’s lives. Travelling to the UK from the Netherlands with the promise of a job, Adam arrived to find that there was no job, no home and no support from the state-run systems.
Like so many, he heard very quickly about Let’s Feed Brum. Hattie and Adam both joke that during the three months he attended he would often take enormous delight in pretending (quite badly) that he loved the coffee.
Adam is now on the other side of that table. Thanks to the help of Let’s Feed Brum and another local charity Sifa Fireside, he has a job, a house and for the last year or so has been volunteering.
“It feels great,” he explains.“Because when you’re out on the street you feel completely disjointed, it’s very much a surreal horror situation.”
Not only is Adam a regular at Let’s Feed Brum meetings, he also helps those still looking for a job or a home. Hattie says: “There’s another organisation, Tabor House, which is the first permanent night shelter in Digbeth and they basically need people round the clock and Adam volunteers there overnight as well, so he’s a real real good egg.”
What’s really striking about Let’s Feed Brum is the support from the businesses of Birmingham. Deloitte now provide a regular stream of volunteers every week – the idea being that it’s something that everyone at the office does, because why wouldn’t you?
Independent businesses struggling in today’s economy are also giving away their food and resources because they too, like Hattie, cannot believe that we have reached a stage where homelessness is considered “the norm” in major cities.
The sheer numbers surrounding Let’s Feed Brum highlight not only the scale of what they’re tackling, but also serve as a reminder that for them, every single cup of coffee is a person that needs their help.
80-100 people come to their soup kitchen every single night.
700 hot meals are served every single week.
Over 50 sleeping bags are handed out every week.
Roughly 40,000 hot drinks are served every year.
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