Submitted by Sr Christine Frost fcJ, founder of Neighbours In Poplar, a group of people of all ages from all sorts of social and cultural backgrounds representing the faith and non-faith groups in Tower Hamlets, in the East End of London. Last year they celebrated their 50th birthday and were honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.
Covid 19 and the Pandemic with its lockdowns and forced isolation of people has been blamed for many of the social ills we suffer today, not only in London but worldwide. However, many of us would differ in this and make the point that the virus has simply exposed how poorly and how inadequately many communities, throughout the world, care for and provide for their less able members.
Neighbours in Poplar is a relatively small charity in East London which, thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, has been responsible in the last 18 months for cooking and delivering over 20,000 hot dinners to vulnerable folk across the Borough of Tower Hamlets (population over 325,000) Our volunteers are proudly mixed from every continent under the sun and all faiths or none.
In the early days of the Pandemic, we used to cook and deliver dinners three times a week. After two months of this activity one driver told me he had covered over 400 miles in his car. [We have been fortunate in twice receiving some Texaco petrol vouchers to help drivers, especially those on low incomes]. We now deliver twice weekly, and the team of peelers (which have included our FCJ novices Ramona and now Miriam) meet on two other days to tackle sacks of potatoes and vegetables. One lady said to her Deliveroo Angel:
I know when that knock on the door comes, that someone loves me!
Another gentleman, living alone (like most) who has suffered from mental illness, compounded by Covid, said: that regular visit, friendly smile & chat, “Gives me Hope”.
Since we began in March 2020 over 56 of our clients have died – many from Covid related illnesses. However, for the rest, the loneliness and isolation are etched on their faces and we have come to realise how inadequate their package of care is. For many their diet is sandwiches and frozen foods. Their carers are in a hurry, poorly paid, often without the language or cultural skills to match their clients. The world has gone online, leaving many without access to cash, medication, shopping etc. Mental illness has increased, and we have come across many elders virtually imprisoned in their flats, living on the fourth floor of a block without lift. We are aware that many older Bengali, Somali and East Enders never, ever come down their stairs. One gentleman, known as Sonny, suffered a stroke two years ago and became housebound. He could no longer meet his mates in the local pub and became very depressed. Sadly, a few months ago, he had a fall indoors, was taken to the hospital where he died. Like so many others, he died alone. With no relative coming forward, his was a ‘Nine O’clock Trot’ – basic funeral. Sr Katherine, fcJ like many others, is among our faithful “Angels” and I know that her regular visits mean a great deal to her ‘client friends’.
We all talk about ‘Building Back Better’ and Pope Francis keeps spurring us forward to seek better, more humane ways of building community and expressing basic interconnectedness. This is our challenge, and we keep looking for new ways of expressing our care while continuing to wake up Government and all in authority.
Please pray with us that the “cry of the poor” does not continue to go unheard.
Sr Christine Frost fcJ
Follow Neighbours in Poplar on Twitter @Nip_Poplar or on facebook. Read other posts about Neighbours in Poplar on our website. Watch this video where Sr Christine Frost, fcJ, founder of Neighbours in Poplar, describes their work, and volunteers Nizam and Sr Ramona, fcJ novice, serve and deliver some of the hot meals.