Staff headed down to SIFA Fireside on 12 March, as part of a series of staff volunteering projects. Leaving the office behind, staff spent their Friday morning preparing hot food to serve to the homeless and kitting them out in donated clothing.
SIFA Fireside was formed in December 2007 through the merger of SIFA and the Fireside Charity. Both organisations had a long history and well-established reputations in working with people who were homeless or otherwise disadvantaged, providing a city-wide service.
The charity, based in the city centre, works alongside those who are socially excluded or disadvantaged, addressing alcohol issues and homelessness. They provide a variety of services to those in need, ranging from alcohol support and counselling to resettlement and residential projects, working with the ethos of empowering and supporting people to meet their short and long term goals.
I was one of the volunteers to take part in this project alongside seven other staff members. With none of us quite sure what to expect from the experience, we went with an open attitude hoping to make a difference. Upon arrival, we were given a tour of the building which houses a kitchen, shower and laundry facilities, a counselling room and stores filled with donated food, household goods, toiletries and bed linen. The lead volunteer explained to us that they have outgrown the building and are in desperate need of bigger facilities to cope with the increasing number of homeless people, encouraging all donations to be made.
We were told that the lunchtime service would run from 1pm when people would be able to drop-in to the centre and be provided with a hot lunch and spare clothing that they may need. Our group of eight volunteers were split into two groups: half to help with the clothing and the others to prepare and serve lunch. I was one of the volunteers working in the kitchen and got to work immediately, helping to prepare the set lunch of fish fingers, mash potato and vegetables. Whilst working in the kitchen and speaking to the head chef who volunteers part-time at the centre, I felt inspired to hear his passion for the role and the importance of helping others in his life.
As one o’clock approached, a queue of people had formed outside the centre, all eagerly waiting to enter. Myself and two other volunteers were given the task of dishing the food out, under strict instructions to give each person “three fish fingers, one scoop of mash and one scoop of vegetables”.
It felt extremely satisfying serving the people who drop-in, all of whom were extremely friendly and thankful, on the contrary to common misconceptions of the less advantaged. Although I had initially felt intimidated dealing with those who had alcohol addictions and other issues, it was soon clear that they were all very approachable and amiable. One thing which particularly struck us all was the appearance of those who came along, as most did not fit the stereotypical image of a homeless person which many hold.
As the lunchtime service drew to a close, we were able to serve second helpings to those who wanted it. The rest of the team had been busy pairing the people up with suitable clothing that they required. Reflecting on how we had spent our morning, everyone was in agreement that it had been a truly enlightening experience and were keen to return again. It was a great opportunity to spend the day away from our daily duties doing something which had a real benefit to others. Most importantly, it made us all realise how thankful we should be for everything that we have, as there are so many who are not as fortunate.
For further information or to sign up to the Staff Volunteering Scheme please contact Chantal De-Silva, Staff Volunteering Coordinator on ext 4604.
You can also find out further information on SIFA Fireside and ways to get involved.
Words by Munira Jasat