Whether it is providing the emergency services and members of the public with a hot drink and a listening ear in times of disaster or supporting people when they are homeless, The Salvation Army is dedicated to offering practical help.
It also serves communities through
RENÉE DAVIS visited The Vine in New Addington to find out more about how, for some three years, the service has been changing lives and adding a special touch at Christmas
‘EIGHT years ago, my husband, Matt, and I were appointed to the Salvation Army church in New Addington,’ says Captain Emma Spencer. ‘Although we didn’t advertise it, we had a room where food was stored so we could provide for people who came to us in need.
‘As the need became greater and people got to know us more, I felt that we needed a better location that was discreet and practical for people to get to. We went to Croydon Council and asked if they had a building that we could use. They said yes. Though it required a lot of work, we decided that it would be suitable.’
The council was keen to work with Emma and volunteers from the church to fix up the building. It mended the electrics and put in new double glazing. Emma and the staff were thrilled when a member of the church offered a substantial amount of money for the refurbishments.
‘Most of that money went towards the repair of the roof, which needed to be waterproofed,’ Emma explains. ‘I thought it would be nice if the community could get involved, so I approached businesses around the area to see if they could help us with materials, such as parts for the kitchen and paint. One company not only donated paint, but also sent six apprentices to decorate the building for us.’
A kitchen company donated a kitchen and a member of the church offered to fit it. He also worked on the ceilings and built a divider to create two separate rooms – one to store the food and another that would act as a reception area.
‘The shelves where the food is stored came from a library where we used to hold our worship services,’ says Emma. ‘Some chairs had also been left in the building, so we painted them and matched them with the tablecloths in the reception area. We wanted people to come to a space where they felt welcome.’
The Vine food bank is open on a Wednesday and Saturday morning for people who have been referred via a voucher system.The Vine’s voucher partners are churches, schools, children’s centres, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the council and other organisations. The voucher explains when the centre is open and provides users with the location of the food bank. When the families arrive, they are greeted by a volunteer and offered a cup of tea. Emma and other members of the team then have a chat with those who have been referred about their situation. This gives The Vine the opportunity to support them or refer them to other agencies.
Food donations are accepted on a Tuesday and Friday between 7 pm and 8 pm. Emma explains how food is selected and packaged.
‘When the staff at The Vine sit down with food bank users, they find out how many members are in the family and if there are any dietary requirements or restrictions,’ she says. ‘They also make a note of toiletries or personal care items that are needed. The information is passed to the team, who will then put together a food parcel that matches the size of the family. The food is brought out on a trolley for the family to see. The assortment of food covers a family for a few days.
‘I think the food bank has enabled us to reach further into the community and find those people who need support. Previously, such support was knew about The Salvation Army or had contact with us.
‘Many people weren’t aware that we could help. The food bank has assisted us in learning from the needs of others and understanding what people really have to face in this world. We are on the front line, not just reading about people’s needs, but experiencing them. Consequently, we are able to respond appropriately.’
Lesley Holland is New Addington Salvation Army’s community services co-ordinator. She says: ‘My role means that when I see a need in the community, I can help to meet it. I’m not the sort of Christian who will just sit back and pray about a problem – I always want to do practical things for people.
‘I’m also in charge of the Christmas programme. It’s especially for families that won’t cope financially at Christmas. Many of the children we buy presents for wouldn’t receive anything if it weren’t for us.’
Lesley explains that each family member receives one main gift costing about £10, as well as stocking fillers such as a family game. A gift is also provided for the children to give to their parents.
Christmas food parcels include basic items such as corned beef and ham, and festive treats such as a chocolate log or a box of biscuits. The agencies that have referred the families collect the parcels and distribute them.
‘We’ve heard stories of people collapsing on their doorstep, overwhelmed that someone has cared about them,’ Lesley says. ‘Their gratitude is more about the fact that someone bothered and showed an interest in them rather than the financial value of the gift. The first year we ran this scheme, we helped 40 families. Last year, we provided for nearly 90. But because of the way the benefits system has changed, this year we will be helping more.’
Lesley says there’s a common misconception that people on benefits cheat the system and live the high life.
‘That may be the case for a few people, but they’re certainly not able to do that on benefits alone any more, because benefits cover only the bare minimum. The food we’re giving out is vital, but it’s even more important for someone to visit our centre and feel that someone cares. We can say to people: ‘Don’t worry about Christmas. We can take away some of that stress.’
WHEN I went to The Vine in 2014, I had nothing. My house was empty. I had no furniture and my baby was just two and a half weeks old. My baby’s health visitor came to the house and saw that we were sleeping on the floor. She gave me a green slip of paper and sent me here. It was warm and welcoming. The team treated me as though they had known me for a long time.
They asked me what I had at home and gave me food for Christmas. I will never forget that Christmas. They made me and my children feel like we were somebodies. They gave us blankets and sheets.
They have helped me to meet other needs and pointed me in the right direction so I could put flooring down in my house.
The staff at the food bank are super people who are really out to help people in need. I always went to church, but the welcome that I received here was different from anything I had experienced before. The people here gave me hope and uplifted my spirits. Because of their welcome, I decided to join this church. I will never forget what the food bank has done for me. I believe they’re doing great things for the community. May God bless them.
The War Cry Chrsitmas Issue 2016
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