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. In 2019 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.
On March 17th 2020, a number of us met to work out what we could do to alleviate the Lockdown situation for those living alone, frail, disabled and on low income. We decided to cook and deliver hot dinners to those we knew would welcome a freshly cooked meal. We began with 32 addresses in E14. This grew to a regular 140 spread out all over the Borough of Tower Hamlets.
The meals are cooked by volunteers in St. Matthias Community Centre, an old, deconsecrated Church. They are delivered on plates and by foot, bicycle, car and scooter across the Borough by volunteers, initially three times a week and twice weekly for the last 18 months.
The meal delivery is the least important part of the operation. It has been the human interaction with people who spend long hours alone without any human contact which has been most important. We have seen for ourselves how neglected many older people are, some in shocking conditions and many neglected by family. Over the past three years we have had to break down doors four times, twice to find the person we were delivering to, dead, all alone. We had to organise two funerals, one with family on Zoom from Ireland, (too busy to come over for their Dad’s funeral!). One of the most memorable events of last year was when eight of us met on the banks of the Thames with the ashes of one of our dinner recipients. We represented Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths, all praying together for Bill. We floated the blue washing up basin with his ashes, a pint of milk and a bunch of flowers out onto the flowing river. The prayer was accompanied by a Celtic lament from one of the group!
We have twice found men without beds in their flats. One had a mattress on planks perched on four milk crates. Elders have been helped with all sorts of practical issues, most of which required you to be on-line. The majority of our elders have no knowledge whatever of the internet … social media has passed them by. Our recipients represent people of all faiths and none. One of the most isolated people we visit is an Iranian Jewish lady, living in one room totally isolated from any of her fellow Iranians. Our Volunteers come from every continent, speak a variety of languages and are of different faiths. Tomorrow, March 22, the month of Ramadan will begin and Christians and Muslims will be entering special prayer times over the next weeks, Easter and EID. We wish our Muslim recipients and volunteers Ramadan Mubarak.
Today 36 of our volunteers met to celebrate their 36,000th dinner delivery and to say Thank You to all who have supported us over the last three years, Thank you!