Volunteers who help feed homeless people have received a High Sheriff’s Award, recognising their services to the community.
Denis Burn, Somerset’s High Sheriff, praised the team at Feed the Homeless during a gala evening.
Charity founder, Naseem Talukdar, who set up the charity in February 2016, thanked hundreds of volunteers for their help.
He said: “Thanks to their dedication we are able to support homeless people throughout the year.
“Homelessness can happen to almost anyone. We recognise we are more fortunate and have somewhere warm to live, someone to spend our time with and food to eat.
“It’s important to help others who are less fortunate and show them the care they deserve as humans.”
The charity has become part of the World Association of Chefs Society, which aims to give back to their communities, and continues to expand across the South West.
Bristol family Rachel Green and Shemal Ahmed and their five children received an award of special appreciation, for volunteering above and beyond expectation
Weston family Heidi, Richard, Chloe and William received the same award for their area.
It can happen to anybody
Teenagers who had been in care; those with disabilities and no support network; some who had suffered relationship breakdowns and others with addictions are among the people the team help.
Naseem Talukdar said: “Anyone can fall into homelessness. I’ve seen scientists, corporation-workers, those who have made bad investments or those who’ve had a relationship breakdown end up on the streets. They could be homeless because of mental health issues or losing their jobs.
“I think prevention is better than cure. We see photos on social media and it looks like people are leading perfect lives when in reality we all face challenges.
“It’s important to speak out and reach out if you think someone may need your help. It’s easier to help stop people slide down than to help them get out of homelessness”
People have been helped to transition from homelessness to living in accommodation, as well as to reconnect with their families where previously estranged.
Mr Burn said: “I joined the team one evening and it was clear the volunteers have developed a strong rapport with the homeless in the town centre and that their efforts and their friendship were deeply appreciated.
“This is support and friendship without strings attached, seeking to rebuild the spirits of people in danger of running out of hope.
“I came away desperately disappointed that our society can allow people to end up in this state.
“At the same time, I was heartened by the humanity and kindness of the volunteers who help to support them.”
One man in his 40s has been homeless on and off for several years. He earned good money in his 20s and was introduced to heroin by a friend at the time.
He said: “I tried a lot of drugs but heroin got the better of me. I thought I was having fun at the time, but it has ruined my life.”
He eventually went into rehabilitation, where he met his former partner. When the relationship broke down, he went back onto drugs.
He said: “I put the needle back in my arm because it’s the only thing I know that eases the pain.”
He worked as a caretaker when he was off drugs. He sees his current situation as a ‘blip’ and is working to get his life back on track.
But he and other homeless people often feel like a subset of society. One person described how dog walkers would deliberately let their pets pee on their tents.
One man who wanted to spend his hard-earned money on some new clothes said he was turned away from a store. But he has praised staff at the Animal store in Weston.
He said: “People are quick to judge, even though they don’t know anything about me. The people at Feed the Homeless offer more than just food. They listen and are here for us.
“I’ve been a fool but it’s a blip in my life and I’m starting to get back on track. I want to get off the street, keep clean, get work and be a member of society.”
Feed the Homeless is a community effort with over 300 helpers – from local people and businesses.
Georgina Parfitt, who works as a conveyance at Star Legal in Fishponds, joined the charity as a cook over a year ago.
She has prepared a variety of dishes with all manner of available ingredients, thanks to donations and supermarket leftovers.
Her partner, David McKendrick, works at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust, and the ward he works with donated 30 kilos of surplus dried custard.
She also received donations of pastry and pie filling on an industrial size from a scrap metal yard – Sims Group UK – where her brother-in-law works. It has fed nearly a 100 people.
She said: “I just wanted to do my bit to help homeless people, as it seemed to be an area people weren’t focusing on.”
Vani Unny, who moved from Kerala in Southern India to Bedminster, Bristol, seven years ago, joined the charity to commemorate her late grandmother. She prepares meals with the help of her eight-year-old son, Aditya Pillai.
She said: “In our culture we have a long tradition of feeding the hungry. Before we close the gates when it gets dark in the evening, we ask if anyone wants food. Those who can afford extra food give it away.
“My grandmother believed in this tradition of feeding the hungry any time of the day and I decided to join the charity in her memory on the anniversary of her death.”
Campaign group UK Curry Connect, which was set up to raise awareness of skills shortages in the Asian catering industry, prepares fresh food to take out to homeless people.
Moslek Uddin, who heads the group and runs Chutneys takeaway, said: “We’ve been supporting this charity from the day it started by providing freshly cooked meals.
“We’ve been able to watch it grow thanks to all the kind-hearted volunteers, from all walks of life, who give up their time to help out.”
He was one of ten volunteers from Team UKCC who cooked the meals at the gala, which were also given to homeless people.