Imagine being homeless during lockdown? Imagine if your only sanctuary had to be closed because of the risk of infection?By Sandra Pluthero, Cafe Manager at Sanctus Homeless Charity, Chelmsford
Before COVID-19 Sanctus was a day space for the homeless and vulnerable in Chelmsford. Sanctus offered free food and beverages from 10:30a.m. till 5p.m. seven days a week. Sanctus is a registered charity and relies on donations, grants and internal fund raising to keep open. Prior to COVID-19 Sanctus volunteers would collect unsold sandwiches and cakes from Greggs, Pret a Manger, Tesco Express and other supermarkets at the end of their trading day. These foods would be kept in a fridge in the free café and service users could help themselves. Occasionally there would be vegetables donated and we would use these in our meals. Every day a hot meal would be freshly prepared and served. I would be responsible for the menu but basically it would be very traditional home cooking such as cottage pie, roast dinner, Bolognese, curry, casserole etc.
In 2019 the Sanctus support hub opened upstairs to the café which provides information, therapies, addiction support, housing support, employment advice, courses in IT and other back to work courses and counselling.
Sanctus employs a handful of people but is reliant on volunteers helping in the café, support hub, collections and fundraising. Until this March our service users would come to the café to eat, socialise, get support and enjoy a safe space off the streets.
However, since the Coronavirus we have had to close the day space and resort to a takeaway service. Every day during lockdown we have been providing a daily hot meal and the equivalent of a packed lunch so that everyone can eat later in the day. Every day we have sent 28-30 dinners to the hotel where many homeless people have been temporarily housed; fed a further 15-20 homeless who come to the café door; and a further 20-30 vulnerable people who need food and use Sanctus.
We have been serving food that is easy to eat from a takeaway foil dish such as casseroles, pasta dishes, sausage and mash etc always including meat, carbohydrates and vegetables. I have to be aware of costs whilst providing nutritious meals and have learnt to be flexible always making good use of donations. So if, for example, vegetables are donated I would use them as soon as possible as the main veg for the meal or if not enough I would use them to fill out a Bolognese or in a casserole, in a sauce or freeze them. We have also catered for vegetarian take away dinners. The takeaway bag consists of a sandwich, drink, crisps and sweet treat.
I think it’s important to see how valuable our services are to the community and how demand has grown, I have kept records since I started at Sanctus in April 2016.
- In April 2016 we served 247 meals
- In April 2017 we served 813 meals
- In April 2018 we served 1295 meals
- In April 2019 we served 1614 meals
- In April 2020 we served 2123 meals
Editor’s note: As a Parish we support Sanctus through Fundraising efforts and donations. There is a collections box outside Mustard Seed for collections. In particular during the crisis we are collecting soft drinks, crisps, sweet treats etc for the “packed lunch” bags.