We speak to the people doing great things for those on the margins at Christmas. And the best bit? There are whole armies pitching in to help them
Cummin’ Up Caribbean Takeaway, Lewisham, London
‘Every year there’s a new story’
The idea is to do for others what we would wish to be done for ourselves if we were in need. We started making free meals for people who are homeless or just need some company. People in the community heard about it, offer their help and it grew and grew. This will be our 10th year.
We offer a traditional English Christmas roast, the turkey, the Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, parsnips. But we also put in a little Caribbean twist – we add jerk chicken, some rice and peas. We average 120 meals. We have many people that spend the whole day with us. I have had a friend of mine who plays steel drums, so we might even have a little live music this year to make it even more special.
A lot of the people we’re trying to reach aren’t on social media. We go back to basics and speak to people. That person you know who might be rough sleeping, that person you see all the time on your commute– next time you see them mention that there’s a restaurant on Lewisham High Street that’s offering a free meal and tell them they’re welcome. I met an elderly lady who has lived on the same street as me for 40 years and she didn’t know about our meal until now. She’s already said to me how much she’s looking forward to it.
It’s a whole mix of people who come to dine. We try and insist that everyone sits down around the table to eat. There were some who were homeless who wanted takeaway, it became apparent that they didn’t want to be eating inside and leaving their companions outside – their dogs. So we set tables for them outside. Every year we learn a new lesson, every year there’s a new story. A testament, as I would say.
The Ambassador Pub, Dundee
‘We can’t wait to see their smiling faces. If it goes well, we’ll do it every year’
We’re a family-run business, my daughter Michelle said to me one day, “Can’t we do something for the elderly and the homeless?”
Everybody’s going to get a meal on Christmas Day. They’ll get a free raffle. They’re going to get a gift from Santa. There’ll be films shown and music. Open some presents. We’re planning for 150. We’ve had so many offers of support from the local community. I got approached by Dundee United football club and they’re coming into partnership with us. They’re sending people up to help and they’re going to provide transport to and from the pub.
We’ve had costumes donated, so the staff are all going to dress up in Disney costumes and as Santa Clauses. We just want to make people happy. There’s a lot of lonely people and people that are not as well off as ourselves. We can’t wait to see their smiling faces. If it goes well we’d like to start doing it every year.
There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
O’Shea’s Fish and Chip Café, Barry Island
‘Some people can be rich in money but poor in friends’
I asked the owner of the shop if I can open Christmas Day to make free meals for people and he said yes. I decided to set up a Just Giving page. All I wanted to do was raise £200, to pay for things for the day. Within 10 hours I got to £90 and I was buzzing. When it got to £200 I was literally in tears. I’ve got about £800 now which is crazy. Soon as the story got out, our suppliers started ringing up – the people who deliver our potatoes, the coffee roasters, the people who deliver our milk. Everyone wants to donate or help in their own way. I had two older women get in touch who want to bake mince pies. It’s been overwhelming.
It’s not just homeless people we’re looking to feed at the cafe – the idea is for no one to be alone on Christmas Day. Some people can be rich in money but poor when it comes to company and family or friends. It’s open to anyone who could be on their own.
I was going to go down the route of making a traditional Christmas dinner. But if it’s meant to be something special it should be something different. How many people at home have fish and chips on Christmas Day? We’ll have a Christmassy twist on it though. I found a recipe for deep-fried Brussels sprouts.
Who’s helping to make it a wonderful Christmastime in your area?
We know there are lots of people quietly doing Christmas heroics for those less fortune. They might be modest but we’ll shout about them for you! Share your stories of festive generosity on Twitter Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org