LLondon: Across the globe even in countries where Christians are a minority celebrations for Christmas can be seen through discount sales, Christmas trees and festive lights. The celebrations have become more global in recent decades with even Pakistan having a Santa in trains and planes.
But this as Christians all know, is not the true message of Christmas and British Asian Christian Association, wanted the original message of hope and salvation to be given to the most vulnerable in our local community.
Up until this week when we shared a desperate appeal with all of you, we honestly thought our celebrations would be more mute then in previous years. However, many of you responded and we have been able to take off hold some of our Christmas projects.
Hannah Chowdhry provides a tour of our preparations – we assure you we put in hours of effort:
One that we find particularly special is our work with the homeless and economically deprived people of Ilford. When we work with these often forgotten and isolated individuals, we are humbly reminded of God’s call to help the most vulnerable.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40
We cannot express to you how beautiful it is to see the joy and gratitude of our regular visitors every day we serve them. We try and do something special every year and asked homeless people what one item of clothing they really wanted during November and December and they either asked for a hoodie, a jumper/top, tracksuit bottoms, trainers or gloves and scarves. We told them we would appeal to people for unwanted items, but in the end we went to Primark and bought the items for them, none of which cost more than £10. We had asked the Ilford Primark Manager for a discount but were advised quite abruptly that Primark did not help community homeless projects, so it did limit what we could buy as we had a budget of £75. However, a local donor then agreed to buy some gifts from her personal money and we were able to share those also.
When we gave the presents out the homeless were simply beaming, many had not had a new item for more than a year, a few even cried and our volunteers joined them caught up in the emotion of the moment.
All our homeless visitors are at different stages and the man above is in a halfway house and has recently been reunited with his family. This is his second Christmas and he shared some of his progress.
But we did not stop there we bought them Christmas cards with their names written in where possible, but there are always some new people who had a standard greeting, Dear Friend. Many of our visitors had not received a Christmas card for sometime they seemed exhilarated by our small effort.
Festive treat like Christmas crackers are also a memory of a distant past for some of our homeless visitors, but no more as we shared these treats so they could enjoy short moments with one another, by ripping them apart between them. It was a beautiful scene to see they did not fight over the gifts inside but seemed to really enjoy a shared moment of wonder as their crackers snapped. Some even donned their Christmas hats as they walked off to their homes or other places to stay.
We played a mixture of Christmas Carols and more commercial Christmas songs to enthuse our visitors:
To top things off, our regular meals were upgraded to full Christmas meals with turkey, gravy, lamb, mint sauce, cranberry sauce, a separate box of roast vegetables and potatoes and a bag with a mince pie, a fairy cake and a selection of Cadbury’s Celebrations.
We guess they enjoy the food we make because over 40 are attending our ‘Meals for the Homeless’ centre every week. It’s a very good attendance locally and our visitors are made up of people living in the streets, halfway houses and the economically challenged.
We had preorganised gifts for homeless we had spoken with prior to event and allowed others to choose their gifts while stocks lasted:
Hannah Chowdhry, Coordinator for the centre, said:
“In previous years we would have had our decorations up for a two weeks.
“We had to put them all up and take them all down again on the same day this year. because the hall is no longer ours.
“This made our work more difficult but we had three Duke of Edinburgh volunteers and several food donors help us on this special day.
“Our hot meals were bigger than ever and the presents were also bigger and will genuinely help our homeless friends stay warm over the next few months.
“We had to tell them that we will be closed for the next week due to limited volunteers for Christmas, though we will resume the week after, before new year.
“I am worried about how our friends will deal with the cold and hope more donations of warm weather clothes materialise.