• In May we announced Maidstone-based charity, Time for the Homeless, as our Charity of the Year 2021-23.

    Since then we have been supporting the charity with monthly donations of essential items, such as food, toiletries and clothing. Our staff, coordinated by the firm’s Community Relations Committee, have also been giving up their time to volunteer at the weekly soup kitchen, handing out food and talking to attendees.

    Shannon Collins, a Paralegal in our Family team, has been a regular volunteer at the soup kitchen. In this blog, she shares her experiences and why the work of Time for the Homeless is so valuable to our local community.

    Homelessness in Kent

    It is hard to imagine what it would be like to live without a home and yet in 2019, Shelter estimated that 280,000 people in England were homeless. That’s one in every 200 people, and in the 2020-21 financial year, more than 1600 households applied to Medway Council for support because of homelessness.

    People find themselves homeless for a number of different reasons. It may be they can no longer afford their rent, they’ve experienced job loss, a breakdown in a relationship, mental or physical abuse or perhaps they have just been released from prison. I’m sure most of us take for granted the fact that we have not experienced the life changing impact that some of these situations can have.

    For some people, the coronavirus pandemic has had a detrimental impact on their already difficult situation. Many have found themselves newly homeless as a result. It is arguable that more people require help now than ever before.

    Time for the Homeless charity

    With homelessness being such a critical issue both nationally and in our local area, I’m really pleased that Time for the Homeless has been chosen as our charity of the year. The charity was set up to tackle homelessness, along with providing support for low income and vulnerable people in Maidstone and Medway.

    The charity is an entirely voluntary service that runs soup kitchens in Medway and Maidstone, feeding over 100 vulnerable homeless individuals at sessions in Maidstone and Medway every week. Their focus is to ensure anyone who turns up is offered a warm, nourishing meal as well as any other supplies they might need, such as food, clean clothes, sleeping bags, tents, toiletries and first aid items.

    In addition, their outreach programme provides food and essentials parcels to those unable to attend their soup kitchens, but who are still in need of support.

    Volunteering at the soup kitchen

    I have recently been volunteering on a Tuesday evening at the charity’s weekly soup kitchen in Maidstone. When I first volunteered, I was a little anxious, having never done anything of this nature but I have found it so rewarding. Attending the soup kitchen has been a reminder that there are many people who are not as fortunate as most of us and giving up just a couple of hours a week to help is really valuable to the charity.

    As a volunteer, I help to set up for the evening soup kitchen. Once people start to arrive, I assist with distributing food and any other essentials that they might need. A big part of my role as a volunteer is the social interaction I have with the people who attend. Many of them just want to chat and share their experiences. Personally, this is my favourite part. Getting to know everyone is so lovely and has been a real eye opener.

    Who do Time for the Homeless support?

    I have met so many different people while I’ve been volunteering. All of them have different stories and different reasons for accessing the support that Time for the Homeless offer. For example, a lady I spoke to this week is currently living in a tent. Unfortunately, her previous tent was not sufficient for the autumn weather and all of her belongings had got wet after a night of heavy rain. She had recently received a new, waterproof tent from the charity and was so grateful that she could at least ensure she had somewhere to keep herself and her belongings dry.

    Time for the Homeless welcome anyone who needs their support. Some of the people I have spoken to while volunteering have found themselves in a difficult situation from a very young age. Recently, I spoke to a young girl who  was currently living in a hostel. She was eight months pregnant and received a large donation of baby clothes and food to assist her in preparing for the arrival. I was informed about the young girl that had been on the streets since she was 15. Her mother was in prison as she had unfortunately become reliant on drugs and alcohol.

    Another young boy had recently been released from prison. He  told me he had got in with the ‘wrong crowd’ from a young age and had very little support at home. He had recently found accommodation and was trying to get his life ‘back on track’. Engaging with Time for the Homeless meant he had somewhere he could go where he could find stability, support and an opportunity for social interaction.

    The long-term impact of the charity’s support is clear to see. A regular attendee is a man who had previously used the service. Although he no longer requires their help, he still attends to help the organisers and chat with the attendees to show his appreciation for the support they gave him during his time of need.

    How you can get involved

    During the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to get to know the many different types of people who benefit from the soup kitchen. I often feel a range of emotions whilst I’m volunteering; happy that the charity is able to provide such a valuable service to so many people in our local area but also sad that so many people are in a situation where they require that type of support.

    However, I always leave with a warm feeling in my heart after volunteering and a sense of satisfaction that, without the work of the charity, these people would otherwise go hungry.

    I will be volunteering with the charity each week until the end of the year now and am particularly looking forward to the Christmas dinner the charity will be offering on the last Tuesday before Christmas. If you can spare just a couple of hours to support Time for the Homeless by volunteering or donating supplies, I would highly recommend it. Helping others has been a real eye-opening experience. It has allowed me to learn new skills and meet new people. It is also a reminder of how lucky I am, and a reminder of how much I take for granted.

    Time for the Homeless: Christmas fundraising activities

    Volunteers from Time for the Homeless are hosting the charity’s first Christmas Fayre on Saturday 27 November at Cliffe Memorial. They have 26 stall holders currently booked for the day, with three of the stalls run by volunteers. There will also be refreshments and homemade cakes available to purchase in the kitchen area.

    The charity is looking to continue its shoebox donation campaign again this Christmas season, which is something they do every year, and often involves children from local schools helping to put shoebox donations together.

    There are also plans underway to host two special Christmas dinner soup kitchens. The charity is currently trying to find a building in Medway and Maidstone to host the evening. If they are unsuccessful, they still plan to serve the Christmas dinners, in takeaway containers, along with crackers and the Christmas shoebox donations, at their usual evening soup kitchens.

    You can find out more details on the Time for the Homeless Facebook page.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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