Updated: Aug 31, 2021
How do you deliver food support when your shelter space is closed by a pandemic?
Three months ago, the Corona virus (Covid-19) changed our world. “We find ourselves afraid and lost,” responded Pope Francis in his address on March 22nd. "The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls.”
The Community of Sant’Egidio in London, delivering nourishment to vulnerable people every month during “Our Cup of Tea” dinners, rose quickly to the challenges of ‘the new normal’. When Sant’Egidio’s shelter space had to close, and social distancing rules forbade serving hot drinks during a freezing Spring, we came up with a novel and creative strategy: to reinvent ourselves as a takeaway service from the boot of a Fiat. Our motto: Non ti preoccupare! (‘don’t worry’ in Italian).
Every week since, the boot of the yellow Fiat (belonging to Sant’Egidio’s food coordinator, Marilena De Vita) fills up with donations. Homeless guests rely on the ready-made food; families and the newly unemployed (with access to kitchens) take meat and vegetables. We rely on food surplus but many guests with health conditions need healthy food, not junk.
Over the weeks, our little Fiat takeaway service developed by word of mouth into an essential link in a grass roots network of independent food banks, catering companies, mutual aid groups and amateur home cooks. Furloughed tech industry executives and lawyers help sort the food donations delivered by City Harvest. Sant’Egidio’s chefs, Andrea & Francesco, also continued cooking, and were joined by myself, now producing meals from a kitchen space donated by St. Mary Abbott’s Church.
Strangers of all backgrounds have become trusted colleagues in this frontline to conquer the economic hardship caused by Corona. The Nigerian Diaspora Connect Association selected Sant’Egidio as one of their two chosen charities to assist during the crisis. We cooperate with the Grenfell SPACE, the Bay 20 Community Centre, and the Plattery. The Playground Theatre repurposed its bar space with a cooker and sends us 50 meals a week. Together, our food pipeline provides food support to thousands across the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. It’s a beautiful cycle of humanity and caring.
When we started in March, in chilly weather, and unsure if it was even safe to be outside, the regulars asked anxiously, “Will you really be here every week?” News stories and local reports convinced us we had to be: across the country food became critical for people who lost their jobs, for elderly people losing access to community centres, and for the homeless who no longer had shelters or even cafés to rely on. Even now after lockdown, we see no change in the rising numbers requiring food aid.
Sant’Egidio’s services, here in London as well as all over the world, have never been just about serving food. Nourishing souls with the friendship that surrounds breaking bread together helps us all to cope with being separated when we most need to draw together. Around the Fiat, we listen to updates from our regulars, warmly introduce new guests, and ensure no one feels alone when they are with us. Despite the bleak outlook, we see acts of caring, when guests share food, or help each other with tips of where to find further aid.
“Although the world is full of suffering,” wrote Helen Keller, “it is also full of the overcoming of it.” Many of us are still lost and afraid, but what helps us through the storm is each other. Not as individuals, but as a Community. We volunteers and members gain just as much from our service each Saturday as do our guests. As they say to us, what makes Sant’Egidio special is the kindness we provide with each package of food.
Around our little Fiat foodbank, we have created a rewarding space of solidarity in the storm.