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City Harvest drops in to help feed destitute asylum seekers

Sue Fox writes about

A Warm Meal and Friends for

struggling refugees

On a sunny Sunday in June after a long week of redistributing healthy surplus food in London, Simon- one of our newest vans—is still hard at work. People spot Simon all over London, his remit is quite large, 7 days each week.

Today, with Jason in the driver’s seat, Simon heads to a new partner: a monthly volunteer project for more than 400 hungry, destitute asylum seekers that has been running at a school in in East Finchley on the first Sunday of the month, for ten years.

A registered charity, NNLS approached City Harvest to see if they could help. Local supporters cook meals and donate excellent food, but they can always do with lots more as the number of people who benefit from their service is, sadly, quite daunting. There are no facilities at the school to cook. There are allotments next door and sometimes, depending on the time of the year, the gardeners are generous and donate produce for the Drop In.

As usual, City Harvest’s head of logistics, Paula Merrony, took up the challenge of putting aside produce to fit a very specific remit for a new partner. The majority of the clients at the Drop-In have no home, and no way of cooking for themselves. The lucky ones who have friends, sofa surf but far too many of them sleep on park benches, on night buses and anywhere they can lay their heads. Apart from food, clothing, medical advice and legal help, the Drop-In have also supplied sleeping bags. Some clients travel to the Drop In from Home Office accommodation miles away. One newcomer, Ismail, originally from Syria, cycled fifteen miles to meet his only friend, a fellow asylum seeker confined to a wheelchair. Ismail has been in the UK for precisely two months and ten days. A Kurdish mother and father with their disabled son also turned up for the first time. Yeshu, from Eritrea who is 75 but looks much younger, has been coming to the Drop In for a long time. She was waiting for someone who speaks her language to translate, but a packet of Coffee from City Harvest and some fresh ginger didn't need words. They just brought a big smile to her beautiful face.

On this particular Sunday morning, three hours before the official opening time, a queue of men and women from Syria, the Congo, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco and many other far away places, wait patiently to be registered. It is the same every month. The Drop In is a life line. For a few hours in their mostly heart-breaking lives this is a place of safety where people care about them. Where they can eat as much as they want, and just occasionally smell and taste something from home, talk in their many languages, make friends, swap stories and be looked after.

At 12.30pm on the dot, Jason arrives with one of the City Harvest vans. He has boxes of tomatoes, bananas, croissants, rice crackers, crisps, orange drinks, coffee, pineapples, vegetables, paper containers, limes, ginger, boxes of oranges, capsicums and, as always, that big smile, warm heart, and calm, helpful way he has of getting everything done. The City Harvest van is such a welcome sight and Jason is a wizard. He heaves boxes and trays into the school, quietly finding places for the food and quietly making the world a better place. Delivery over, he has already repacked the empty pallets and trays back into the van. Everyone waves him off - en route to pick up food donations from a supermarket, hoping he will be back next month. Vacuum packs of coffee were, not surprisingly, very popular as a take away item – as were small packets of broccoli and bags of wholemeal flour.

There is a postscript to the story. Paula admitted that late Saturday she almost cancelled the City Harvest delivery to the Drop In. 'We didn't have anything suitable to put on the van. But I didn't want to disappoint them.’ Who knows how Paula worked her magic so that City Harvest's newest project had some great food. “It's just another example of how quickly things change around here!”

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