More than 200 Brussels sprouts, four turkey crowns, dozens of Christmas crackers, games, gifts and plenty of carols – it can only mean it’s Christmas Day at The Salvation Army.
David Standen, 47, who was once supported out of homelessness by The Salvation Army is this year volunteering again to help cook the meal at Wood Green Salvation Army. After his first stint last year as a volunteer chef, he enjoyed the experience so much, he’s back again.
This year he will be working with Vince, who is the chef at Wood Green Salvation Army’s senior lunch club. And they’ll be there prepping the vegetables and decorations on Christmas eve with a team of volunteers, to make sure the day is as memorable as possible for people who might otherwise be on their own on Christmas Day.
You may remember David as he took part in the BBC 1 documentary, Paul O’Grady: Sally Army and Me, broadcast in 2016. David was a resident at our Cambria House Lifehouse for people who are homeless. Paul helped him move into his own flat after he received support from The Salvation Army.
Now David is studying Health and Social Care Management at St Patrick’s University, and is also a volunteer inspector for The Salvation Army Housing Association (saha).
David said that last year a whole range of volunteers and people attended the Christmas day lunch from all sorts of backgrounds, ages, and experiences.
“There was one lady who volunteered on Christmas Day who worked for a top design company, while someone else’s family had gone abroad for Christmas that year so they decided to enjoy a festive meal with The Salvation Army instead,” he said.
Last year 47 people attended the lunch – which is intended for anyone who might otherwise be on their own. The meal was served at around 12.30pm, finishing up at 2.30pm, after games and carol singing. David also spoke after the lunch about his personal journey; David became homeless after a mental breakdown before coming to The Salvation Army. Everyone who attended the meal also received a Christmas present and a packed tea for later in the day.
Of cooking the meal, David said: “There was no challenging part because it was so well organised. I have spent 20 years in catering and I have never seen a kitchen so well run. The volunteers all pulled together, there was myself and another lady cooking, with other volunteers serving up the food.”
“Because of the way The Salvation Army looked after me - they gave me everything - I will always come back to The Salvation Army. Volunteering on Christmas Day is my way of giving back to the people who looked after me.”
Major Paula Knight, who with her husband Paul, are the church leaders at Wood Green church (corps) and community centre, said: “We organise this event because Christmas Day is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. It is important to have an event like this on Christmas Day because we want people to know that God loves them and if someone is on their own while we are celebrating I think that somewhere along the line the true meaning of Christmas has been lost.
“Last year our main cook was feeling unwell, and although she still managed to cook a beautiful Christmas dinner it was really helpful to have David in the kitchen helping her and being ready to take over at a moment’s notice if she was not able to continue. It was an absolute joy to have David working as part of the team – his happy spirit and dedicated attitude is just perfect for a day like this.”
This year, Wood Green Salvation Army is preparing to cater for 60 people and there is still space to attend this year’s Christmas Day lunch. People can either contact Paula on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8888 9466 to request to attend the lunch yourself or recommend someone to attend.