Meet Vanessa, youth worker turned Christmas cook

published on 16 Nov 2020

Vanessa Nsilu, Salvation Army Youth Worker turned cook

Vanessa Nsilu has worked for The Salvation Army for the past ten years.

Her role as a youth worker at our Barking corps in East London usually involves running activities such as arts, sports and dance classes for children and teenagers in the area.  But when the country went into lockdown at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, classes were forced to stop.

Whilst the church doors at Barking Salvation Army had to close to young people and visitors, its vital hot meal service and food bank for the vulnerable and homeless (known as the Oasis Food Project) continued by providing food boxes and hot take-away meals.  Unable to work in her usual role, Vanessa was redeployed to prepare essential food for people coming to the corps.  

Vanessa picks up the story: “At the start of lockdown, we noticed there were more and more people struggling and needing support in terms of food, so we were very pleased we could continue to provide hot meals and food boxes for vulnerable families and individuals in Barking.  And whilst I couldn’t do my usual job as youth worker, I was delighted to continue to support my community by becoming a full time cook. 

Many people coming to us had never used a food bank before this year. Some said it is the last thing they ever thought they would need to do.

“As well as preparing food for our hot meals service, I also get to meet people at the door as they collect their take away meal or food parcel.  Many people coming to us had never used a food bank before this year. Some said it is the last thing they ever thought they would need to do. I know that many feel anxious and just need someone to acknowledge them, offer a smile or to say hello. People have told me that it makes a big difference for them that they are treated well and not thought of as ‘less than’ anyone else. 

“It gives me a feeling of joy being able to help someone in this way.  Whether in my role as a youth worker or in the kitchen as a cook, the reason I do it is because of a promise I made to God when I was 10 years old.  On my birthday, I was told to blow out the candles on my cake and to make a wish.  What I asked for is for God to bless me so that I could bless others. Through the work of Barking Salvation Army and the Oasis Food Project, I feel I am able to do that.”

As we approach winter and lockdown restrictions continue to affect many people, the vulnerable and alone need The Salvation Army more than ever.  

The pandemic and lockdown restrictions mean Christmas this year is different, but The Salvation Army is continuing to offer socially distanced support like hot meals, clean warm clothes, blankets and hygiene kits across the UK. 

Vanessa is still working in the kitchen at Barking Salvation Army and says she will continue to do so as we approach Christmas and for as long as is necessary.

Vanessa concludes: “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, The Salvation Army in Barking has adapted to support our local community.  We have stuck to our core purpose of serving suffering humanity and mobilising the church to help others where it is needed. The pandemic has provided an opportunity for us instead of shutting our light away inside our buildings, to take it outside our doors into the areas where it is needed most and sharing it there.”

Support the Christmas appeal