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'I’m on the carrots!' MPs join volunteers to cook thousands of Christmas dinners for Londoners

Over two thousand Christmas dinners have been cooked and delivered across London

Volunteers stack the Christmas dinner packages cooked at the Park Plaza Westminster Hotel. Image: Evie Breese/The Big Issue

The kitchens of a central London hotel were taken over by an army of volunteers a week before Christmas Eve, to cook what might be the capital’s biggest Christmas dinner this year, churning out over 2,700 meals. 

In the industrial scale event on December 17, huge trays of roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sprouts and gravy were packed up by local residents, MPs, business owners and good samaritans. 

“These meals will be distributed through the network of food banks, and some local volunteers will be able to deliver those meals to people who need them, including people who are isolating,” organiser Ibrahim Dogus told The Big Issue. 

Chefs at the Park Plaza Hotel in Waterloo churned out tens of thousands of sprouts and gallons of gravy from the hotel’s kitchens, as volunteers put together the food parcels. Local businesses rallied together to fund the operation which will feed thousands of people across London. 

With the UK entering what has been called a “pseudo lockdown” due to the rapid spread of Omicron, many are grappling with the prospect of spending the festive period in isolation or away from loved ones. 

The meals were delivered to social events and food banks accross the city, and will be available for people who are homeless, elderly, isolating or struggling to put food on the table in the run up to Christmas day.

Over 100 pensioners gathered in St Matthias Church in poplar for a Christmas party, and were served the freshly cooked meals by Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs, local councillors and volunteers.

Local MP for Vauxhall Florence Eshalomi joined the event to help box up roasted carrots and potatoes. She told The Big Issue how proud she felt to see the giant volunteer effort in her own constituency. 

Volunteers delivered the meals to Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and Sister Catherine – decked out in Christmas robes – at St Matthias church in Poplar where they were served to local pensioners. Image: Ibrahim Dogus

“One of the things that Covid has shown is the massive community effort, community giving, of so many people in and around Vauxhall helping their neighbours,” she said.

“This just demonstrates that community spirit is alive and well, and when that time comes, the community will respond.” 

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Called Helping Hands, the volunteer group is orchestrated by Labour councillor Ibrahim Dogus, and came about after pandemic restrictions in December 2020 closed Dogus’ community cafe, With Love, in London’s Waterloo. 

The cafe had served meals to homeless and vulnerable people in Waterloo, and Dogus wanted to find another way to make sure that people could receive substantial, healthy and tasty food when the weather turned colder. 

Kate Osborne, MP for Jarrow and local MP for Vauxhall Florence Eshalomi take it in turns to package sprouts and carrots Image: Evie Breese

Once packaged, the food parcels were delivered to food banks across London by taxi companies Sherbet Electric Taxis and Enterprise Cars, as well as volunteers in their own cars. 

Christian Wakeford, Conservative MP for Bury South found time to stop by the operation to lend a hand, as did Kate Osborne, Labour MP for Jarrow in the north-east who was in London for her parliamentary duties.

“I’m really enjoying it, I’m on the sprouts!” she told The Big Issue. 

“So many people look forward to Christmas but for some people it’s a time of loneliness that highlights exactly what they haven’t got.

“Last year some of my own family members had to be on their own which is really quite awful, but at least I knew they had food and a warm home.”

With a shelf life of three days, the meals will be available for anyone who needs them from Bright Centre in Kennington, Oasis school in Waterloo, Tower Hamlets Community Church and Bethel Church in north London, among other food banks. 

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