We do what we can with what we’re given: Serving my new city-wide family

A blog piece contributed by Rebecca Russell; a University of Sheffield post-grad student volunteering with Help Us Help’s ‘Meals on Wheels’

‘I bet you don’t get people saying “thank you” very much, do you? Well, I’ll say it. Thank you.’

The man smiles at me through the bars of the gate, as more and more people arrive behind him. We’re all here for food: either to eat it, or to cook it.

I’m here for the cooking; part of a group of volunteers preparing lunches and hot dinners for those who need them. Hot meals and sandwich bags are handed out at the gate. The rest is delivered to housing projects, currently sheltering many who would otherwise be on the street. The project is making 190 meals a day.

This is a collaborative effort between Sheffield’s homelessness support agencies, many of whom have been faithfully serving this city for decades, with Help Us Help coordinating volunteers to expand upon the Cathedral Archer Project’s usual operations, in order to meet the growing needs Covid-19 has produced.

I heard about the project a few days into lockdown via Facebook, and I jumped on board. I love cooking; making good food is one of the best ways to tell people that they are part of a community that values and loves them. As a post-grad student who recently moved to Sheffield, I have relished this opportunity to serve my new city-wide family.

The project uses one kitchen, and volunteers from every walk of life, to do what can only be described as creating order from chaos. Somehow, hundreds of people get fed with random donated goods. Hands are washed and two metres are meticulously kept, but none of your usual kitchen-law prepares you for the moment someone walks through the door with a donation of 50+ cucumbers.

This is a lot of cucumbers.

We deliberate as to what to do with them. You can’t put them in a stew or make a cake from them (our usual go-to’s), so the cucumbers become cucumber sticks: a fully qualified chef does this. Cucumbers into sticks isn’t really cooking, but the chef doesn’t seem to mind. Nor will the people who receive them in a packed lunch, along with fruits, cereal bars and juices, all donated.

Meanwhile, a freelance cameraman has made the best chilli con-carne you’ve ever tasted. A professor of linguistics has made fifty tuna sandwiches from a 5 litre tub of mayonnaise, and 6kg of rhubarb has become four huge trays of cake. There’s no denying the joy in the kitchen, and the sense of achievement when curries, carbonaras and cakes are boxed up and sent away with delivery volunteers. Hundreds fed in a few hours.

It is this beautiful process that the man at the gate thanks me for. I understand his gratitude, because I am thankful too. Here’s why.

Last week, the courtyard outside the kitchen was decorated with Christmas decorations. A tree had baubles on it. There were sparkly reindeer in the bushes. It was confusing, but gorgeous.

It was the artistic work of one of the guys the project serves. He had wanted to decorate the courtyard for VE day, but could only find Christmas decorations. This didn’t put him off. He lovingly decorated away.

He did exactly what Help Us Help volunteers do in the kitchen. He, like any other volunteer, is capable of creating beautiful things, and he wants to give other people joy by doing so. His peculiar resources won’t stop him: his surplus reindeer are our surplus cucumbers. We do what we can with what we’re given, to love others.

That’s the joy of volunteering with Help Us Help. You give what you’ve got, and you get the reward of seeing other people do the same. Serving our city is never just a one-way process: in through the kitchen, out via the gate. We create within a community. No matter what side of the gate you’re on, we’ve all got stuff to give.

I’m thankful to have learned that here, in Sheffield.


Read more about Help Us Help and the agencies which are involved in the Multi-agency response: http://www.helpushelp.uk/blog/our-covid-19-emergency-statement

Donate to local homelessness charities, who are working very hard to support homeless and vulnerable people in Sheffield, on our All In Event fundraising page: https://tinyurl.com/ycn6a2te

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