Meet the King’s students volunteering their Friday nights to feed London’s homeless
The group of King’s students helping Charity Begins At Home distribute meals to individuals in need
Every week, a large group of King’s students dedicate their Friday evening to volunteer opposite Charing Cross with the Charity Begins At Home Group, proving that charity really does begin at home when it’s a 5-minute walk from your uni.‘Charity Begins At Home’ was founded five years ago. It began with only 4 volunteers feeding London’s homeless from the back of a van and has morphed into a primarily student-run organisation, with a large number of the 60 volunteers being King’s students. As word of the group has spread, students from UCL and LSE have begun getting involved as well.
The group serves around 350-450 hot meals every Friday, and anywhere from 50 to 100 on their Wednesday bike ride deliveries. They’ve been feeding any individuals struggling to put food on the table, from 6.15 pm onwards since their conception in 2016. The organisers liaise with charity sectors of big supermarkets and restaurants who contribute through donating excess products and food. Charity Begins @ Home provides enough to help those in crisis for 24 hours, providing those who show up with a hot meal, a drink and some snacks.
The charity’s mission statement reads: “The United Kingdom is home to over 65 million people, stemming from all backgrounds. Out of these 65 million, the BBC reports that around 4.6 million need regular food assistance. This staggering number often includes our neighbours, colleagues and friends and must not be forgotten. Charity Begins At Home acknowledges the great work being done by UK based charities internationally, but hopes to fill a national and local gap.”
The charity also caters to different dietary requirements, helping to retain the element of choice. As Ezme, a first-year European Studies student and volunteer put it. “It’s dehumanising to say that people who are homeless or struggling can’t choose their own diets.” Commenting on the casual nature of the organisation, she said: “It’s good because you’re not committing every week forever, there’s flexibility.”
The charity’s roots at King’s began with Gabriel, a first-year International Relations student, who has been volunteering with them for over a year. The Tab King’s spoke to Gabriel about his journey and involvement with the charity.
Gabriel intended to get involved with charity work immediately after enrolling at King’s but was rejected from multiple charities. When asked what changed, he said, “This place is open– you can just show up and help.” After realising that the charity needed more assistance, Gabriel began recruiting other students from IR. The involvement of King’s students originated with a few of Gabriel’s friends, but he believes that there are now about 30-40 International Relations students volunteering regularly.
The Tab King’s also spoke to Oussama, a computer science student and one of the leaders at the Friday volunteering sessions, and Alex,a War Studies and History student who has only been volunteering with Charity Begins @ Home for a few weeks but has volunteered for crisis for around 3 years.
When asked what his motivation was for giving up his Friday nights, Oussama said, “It helps me feel like I’m contributing to society and giving something back.” Oussama has been volunteering since December, and enjoys the fact that “every time you volunteer, someone you meet truly appreciates it. I enjoy meeting different people and having these varied interactions.”
Speaking about his motivation to volunteer, Alex said: “The pandemic has exposed many inequalities, and has pushed a lot of people to realise how lucky we are. Volunteering on a Friday night is a small price to pay for treating people with dignity and respect.” Alex went on to say that he believed similar initiatives are important for the interactivity they provide to isolated individuals.”Through talking to people more, I’ve found they always bring up that they’re not looking for change or handouts. People want to be treated like human beings. A lot of people suffer from mental health issues, which has a lot to do with fact that they’ve been dehumanised. When you say hello and acknowledge someone’s existence, you give them the impetus to keep going,” he said.
The Tab King’s also spoke to first-year Neuroscience and Psychology student Sabrina, who was introduced to the charity by a friend. Sabrina said that as a psychology student, she’s “learnt a lot about the bystander effect and the impact of living outside the common world.” Sabrina said her motivations for volunteering stem from not making “the choice to walk past people and ignore them.”
“A big part of charity isn’t just distributing food, it’s human contact, there’s a family element in the routine [of volunteering]. Recognising a guest brings both of us happiness. It’s a little effort for a lot of gratitude,” she said.
The volunteers refer to each other as “family” and to those they feed as their “guests”, which helps cements a sense of unity and hospitality amongst people. In the final debrief, new volunteers introduce themselves and say what they enjoyed; new volunteers are given flowers and special commendations are recognised with tins of biscuits. There’s always an abundance of cake– and even biryani– to fuel the “family” after.