Eat Hackney has been spending some time with North London Action for the Homeless. This small charity is based at St Paul’s church in Stoke Newington, and provides food for homeless and vulnerable people. Twice a week, cook and artist Lucie Galand and a group of volunteers transform donated fruit and veg into a filling and nutritious meal for 50–60 service users. The vivid illustrations of service users featured in this post are also the work of Lucie. For more images, and for background on some of the people who visit NLAH, check out the blog A Three Course Story.
For three hours before the meal is served, there is an atmosphere of calm but intense concentration in the kitchen. Lucie can rely on regular gifts of food from Growing Communities, Whole Foods and other local shops, but she doesn’t know in advance what her ingredients will be. So creativity is key, as is the help of volunteers, who prepare all the fruit and veg. Everything comes together just as the service users flood into the hall – they help themselves to tea and coffee and then volunteers serve them soup, a warming main course and dessert at trestle tables.
Both volunteers and service users enjoy the social side of the project: NLAH fosters an atmosphere of conviviality and mutual respect. So while the food itself is of course vital and beneficial, so is the warmth and human contact the project offers. Volunteer Cecilia, always beautifully turned out herself, is on hand to cut hair, and donations of clothes are handed out.
Lucie and drop-in centre manager Mike Tomes also involve volunteers and service users in the Evering Road Kitchen Garden project, the creation of a small garden in the churchyard, where Lucie can pick herbs, beans and salad greens. And Lucie uses any surplus produce to cook up jars of Patchwork Preserves, organic chutneys and pickles sold in aid of the charity.
In its attitude to both food and people, this is a holistic project. Food which would be otherwise be thrown away is turned into a beautiful and much needed meal. Nothing is wasted: all the food scraps go into the compost bin which then enriches the kitchen garden. Nobody is overlooked and everybody is valued for their contribution and their conversation. Eat Hackney is very glad to have met everyone involved with NLAH.