Meet the volunteers spending Christmas Day at homeless shelters
‘Even helping out once a year is better than doing nothing’
For most people Christmas is about family, presents, roast potatoes, selection boxes and watching in horror as the latest plot twist in Eastenders unravels.
But not everybody spends Christmas Day surrounded by the people they love.
Thousands of rough sleepers are forced to spend Christmas on the streets every year – not to mention the countless statuary homeless and those living in temporary accommodation. This depressing fact drives many to forgo the warm appeal of a day at home and volunteer at homeless shelters instead.
Despite this, some people argue one-off Christmas volunteers are motivated by self-satisfaction and, on the whole, can do more harm than good. We spoke to some people helping out at charities across the country to find out what they’re doing, how often they volunteer and why they do it.
Kitty Gardner – Surrey
This year LSE Masters student Kitty is doing an afternoon and evening shift on Christmas Day for Crisis in London.
The volunteering leaving little time for presents or dinner, but the enjoyment she gets more than makes up for it.
Kitty, who volunteers with all her family, said: “My favourite activity is chatting with the guests as you always hear such interesting stories but it also reminds you to be humble cause homelessness could really happen to anyone.”
Being a vegan, Kitty isn’t too bothered about missing out on a proper Christmas dinner. She said: “There’s usually Christmas-dinner type food left for the volunteers at the shelter that we can have at dinner time but it isn’t really something that I’m bothered about.
The Masters student from Surrey volunteers all year round, but thinks people who give up their time just for Christmas shouldn’t be criticised. She said: “I certainly acknowledge and agree that we have a tendency to pick things up when it suits us and drop them when it doesn’t. But I think Christmas is a time when people become more aware of loneliness.
“We should offer support the whole year round. But we also need to do more than that and question how our society can leave some people in poverty and ask what we can do to change that.”
Rebecca Shapiro – Watford
Freelance journalist Rebecca Shapiro is halfway across the world from her family, and will be volunteering on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Being Jewish, Christmas has never been the biggest date on her calendar, but since her parents recently moved to Canada, Rebecca wanted to spend this year giving back.
She said: “I’m volunteering partly because I used to work at a charity shop which was a helpful reality check – but I haven’t done much since.
Like Kitty, the Leeds grad thinks people who say volunteers are just posh do-gooders are misguided and wrong.
She said: “Not everyone can dedicate their lives to charity and volunteering, so doing something is always better than nothing. You have to start somewhere. With Crisis you have to do at least one shift, and the shifts are 8 hours, so it’s not as if you just hitch up for the odd hour – it’s relatively intense.”
Her day will consist of work from 3pm-11pm at a Crisis shelter on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with time for a quick lunch beforehand.
“My parents and brothers live in Canada, so I’m the dream Christmas volunteer candidate and have nothing better to do. It’s also winter and pretty gross outside, so I think it’s the ideal time to help other people out, especially as most employees have time off. I genuinely think it’ll be an interesting experience, although I am a tiny bit nervous.
Saul Gaunt – Stanmore
Saul Guant thinks volunteers should let their friends know about their charity work.
The paramedic, who will be working at Crisis’s Outreach Centre in Central London on Christmas Eve and December 28th, said: “I will usually post statuses only to raise awareness of what I’m doing and hopefully to get more people to join in.”
The Brighton grad enjoys volunteering with his mum at during festive period, and is drawn to the comprehensive support Crisis provides for its homeless clients.
He said: “Being Jewish, Christmas isn’t a special time for me. But I understand that for other people it’s a very special time and I feel very passionate about trying to provide a nice experience for people who may not otherwise be able to.
“At Crisis there are healthcare teams, dentists, podiatrists who all are there to look after the guests and give them a piece of Christmas. There are also many support services ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to Befriending services to Housing Services – all of which makes me feel very privileged to volunteer for this charity.”
Lola Mosonya – London
When she’s not busy studying at uni, Loughborough student Lola Mosonya volunteers at her local soup kitchen Champions every Thursday and this year will be working there over the Christmas period.
She said: “I’ve been to a few Soup Kitchens around London that quite literally serve the bare nutrients you need to stay alive. I admire and understand that they are completely reliant on external funding but also believe that a soup kitchen doesn’t always have to take it back to 100BC.
“It’s always upsetting when you hear their stories of the normal lives they led before , working normal jobs and supporting families.”
Lola, who Snapchats her work for friends to see, says the shelter’s clients enjoy taking pictures with her.
She added: “Last year a few of the guys took a liking to me and singled me out to take pictures with them. I arned myself the nickname ‘overnight celebrity’.”
Megan Redhouse – London
Charity intern Megan is helping out Crisis in Paddington this Christmas as a general volunteer.
The Liverpool grad said: “I think it’s really important to help others and appreciate what you’ve got. I’m really lucky that I’ve got a great family and friend support network and if I can help others feel important then that’s great.”
Megan volunteered in Zambia for three months last year before a friend inspired her to volunteer in her home town during Christmas.
She added: “I think that even if people just volunteer over Christmas they’re doing something worthwhile. Even helping out once is better than doing nothing. But I think it should be a personal choice. People may often have the intentions to do more throughout the year but just get caught up in stuff.”
Bluebell Evans – Sheffield
Every Christmas Leeds third year Bluebell Evans volunteers at Homeless and Routeless in Sheffield Cathedral, but thinks helpers should refrain from sharing their work on social media.
She said: “I don’t post statuses or anything like that about it I don’t wanna come across as being superior.”
This year Bluebell’s whole family are volunteering for a half day shift where they will work in the kitchen before helping to serve food to visitors. She said all the shelter’s clients are middle-aged, and was particularly upset when an individual refused help.
She added: “The most upsetting thing was when a man who was obviously troubled came in and then refused to eat what we were serving and then left again even though he obviously needed the food and company.”
Bluebell doesn’t volunteer at any other time during the year, but says: “It’s better to volunteer at Christmas than not at all.
“If this is the only Christmas present the homeless people in Sheffield receive I’m glad I’m able to provide them with it. My dad was the one who encouraged us to do this over the festive period. It was a rewarding as well as eye opening and bit emotional experience but that has made us want to keep doing it.”
Cam Wood – Derbyshire
Salesman Cam Wood volunteers for a number of youth charities throughout the year, including work as a mentor for a child with behavioural and anger management issues. This Christmas the Newcastle grad will be volunteering at his local homeless shelter.
He said: “It’s very humbling, you really don’t realise or appreciate how much you have even when you have considerably less than the next middle-class kid who went to your university.
“Really, what’s three hours out of my week? I like the idea of helping people, and it’s incredible how polite and gracious the homeless people are.
“I meant to do volunteering for ages. So when I got a job as a salesman I decided to dip my toe in, I went to the shelter for the homeless and then the week after I spent the weekend gaining my level two in mentoring and was assigned my mentee.”