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Food For London Now: Charities on the front line hand out meals and gifts to bring some Christmas cheer to vulnerable


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etween the Covid crisis and freezing temperatures, London charities tackling homelessness and food poverty are preparing for a tough Christmas.

Yesterday the Standard’s appeal beneficiary, Refettorio Felix, handed out Christmas presents to homeless and vulnerable people at St Cuthbert’s Church in Earl’s Court.

The centre, which describes itself as “a dining room for the community”, has distributed 1,400 Christmas lunches this week to people in need- including the homeless, pensioners and asylum seekers.

Yesterday, the Standard’s proprietor Evgeny Lebedev joined the organisation’s volunteers and staff to hand out gifts of warm socks, hats and scarves alongside a feast of roast turkey, potatoes and Brussel sprouts.

The gifts, provided through a virtual ‘fun run’ by staff from financial services firm Fidelity Management & Research, were distributed  to 150 regular clients of the Refettorio, who gathered outside for a Covid-compliant ‘take-away’ service.

George, 45, who has been homeless for five months after losing his job in a kitchen said: “This has been the most frightening time of my life. I have nothing, having had everything I needed 6 months ago. The Refettorio has made me feel better and that I can get back on my feet. I can’t believe I even got a present.”

Refettorio Felix was set up in 2017, partly funded by the Evening Standard’s Christmas appeal. Before Covid, it offered a free or subsidised dining service for anyone who needed it, made using fresh ingredients from our ‘Food For London Now’ charity partner The Felix Project.

Mr Lebedev said: “When Refettorio Felix first came about, it offered a dignified and different way of treating people in difficult life circumstances. Now with Covid it is just helping people to survive. My admiration goes to all the staff and volunteers who’ve worked to help those in need throughout the pandemic.”

Founder and CEO Ali Kingsley warned that the number of people on the street was growing. “Back [in March], everyone was put in hotels. Now the number of people physically on the streets is rising again.

While this isn’t a surprise, what is more difficult is the massive, fast change in circumstance for so many of those numbers. Each one is a human who has lost so much in such a short space of time and Christmas only highlights that loss.”

Another charity working through the festive period is the Jalaram Mandir from Greenford. Every Friday for the past 10 years, volunteers and staff from the Hindu temple have gathered on Agar Street at Charing Cross to help the homeless.

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Volunteers helping at Jalaram Mandir

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The volunteers hand out fresh and packaged food, along with clothes, sleeping bags and bedding. This year they have been greeted with historic queues of homeless people, up to 400 per night in February.

Trustee Mansukh Morjaria warned that this Christmas would be difficult for those sleeping on the streets. He said: “We are pleased to perform our duty to the community by helping those who need it most. This year has brought immense suffering and the Shree Jalaram Mandir & Community Centre in Greenford is proud to have reacted swiftly with its charity partners to continue feeding, clothing and helping the poorest in our society.”

Down the road at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Indian charity Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (Amurt UK) is also braving the cold to feed the hungry at Christmas and on New Year’s Eve.

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Amurt is offering a vegetarian Christmas meal

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The charity, which operates across the world from Lebanon and Nigeria to Liverpool, is offering a vegetarian Christmas meal of roast vegetables, herb stuffing and gravy to its Holborn clients, many of whom are newly homeless.

Sofia Larrinua-Craxton, Amurt UK’s London programme manager, told The Standard: “I have been very humbled by the people who queue for food: migrants who thought they could make a life here, people who have recently lost what they had due to the current situation, people who don’t have a network of support.”

“Some people sleep on buses, some are very cultured as they spend their days in the library to keep warm, some people look very depressed and some are just used to being on the streets. Homelessness this Christmas feels like the Christmas ghost of Dickensian literature, it is around the corner and it is present.”

  • The Standard’s charity partner, With Compassion, will be serving hot meals out of London Scottish House in Westminster on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Donate to our appeal here to support their work feeding vulnerable people



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