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These are the people helping the homeless in Stratford this Christmas Day

PUBLISHED: 12:58 24 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:58 24 December 2019

Seva Street volunteers will be helping the homeless with food, clothes and other items in Stratford this Christmas. Picture: Luke Acton.

Seva Street volunteers will be helping the homeless with food, clothes and other items in Stratford this Christmas. Picture: Luke Acton.

Archant

While people are sharing food and gifts with friends and family this Christmas Day, a dedicated team of volunteers is helping brighten up the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable in Stratford Shopping Centre.

Volunteers for Seva Street and the charity's founder, Sukhjit Ahluwalia (right front). Picture: Luke Acton.Volunteers for Seva Street and the charity's founder, Sukhjit Ahluwalia (right front). Picture: Luke Acton.

For the second year, charity Seva Street (Seva is Sanskrit for "selfless service") will be in Stratford Shopping Centre giving out food, clothes, toiletries, sleeping bags and the other things people living on the street desperately need.

Shoreditch's Studio Cocina serves contemporary South American cuisine, but for Christmas Day its cook Hernan De Majo is turning his talents to a more needy clientele.

"We want to do a meal that's very different," said Seva Street founder and chairman Sukhjit Ahluwalia.

"The preparation of a meal will take a day of [shopping] and then a day of meal prep and then a day of cooking.

Jyoti Mann with her husband celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary at Seva Street in Stratford Shopping Centre. Picture: Jyoti Mann.Jyoti Mann with her husband celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary at Seva Street in Stratford Shopping Centre. Picture: Jyoti Mann.

"We will be doing a big, big variety of food.

"We want to do some kind of pie or some kind of paella. There will be more than one dish. There will be lots of mince pies and lots of Christmas cake.

"The normal night is about feeding guests, but on Christmas night it's about community. It's about friendship, bringing people together, making people feel loved and wanted."

Sukhjit will be at the shopping centre on Christmas Day, time he usually spends with his family. He's determined to grow the charity from an organisation that helps people who are on the street, to one that helps those people get off the street for good: "The issue is that food, clothes and all this stuff is great, but it's temporary. We want to do something permanent.

"How can we get the help that we need for things like addiction and health issues?"

With the charity serving around 150 people on Christmas Day in 2018, Sukhjit is hoping to see 250 this year.

"It's about helping the people that are here with their issues and their problems," he said. "We've got to work together now to find a long term solution.

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"It has to be support and help so people can address their issues, they can help themselves, they can better themselves as human beings.

"We want to help as many people as we can."

Asked why people donate their time an come to the centre to help the homeless, especially on Christmas Day, Sukhjit said: "Everybody wants to do something to help. What happens is when they come here and do something that's selfless, I think part of their being grows and they feel very worthwhile as individuals. It's that feeling that makes them come back.

"They're getting something out of it as well."

He discovered that feeling himself when he found he wasn't happy with a traditional Christmas: "Three Christmases ago, I was at home. I had a Christmas meal [and I was] sitting there watching TV. I thought, 'Is this it?'."

It seems other people feel the same way, because he claims he never struggles for volunteers.

Mike Eold, 68, is one of those volunteers. He's felt that drive to help others since the 1980s when he helped run a hostel for homeless youths in Islington, later he had a hand in a community cafe in East Ham. Now retired, Mike found Seva Street by accident.

"I heard people were feeding the homeless, then came to find out who it was. I like to give something to the community I live and work in, " he said

Jyoti Mann, 65, from Thurrock, is another volunteer. Describing herself as "multi-faith", she doesn't celebrate Christmas, but this year she has spent both her birthday and 49th wedding anniversary with the Seva Street team (her husband was also at the centre helping on their anniversary).

"It's a very humbling experience coming here," Jyoti said. "It gives me self-satisfaction. At least I can do a little bit for someone.

"I felt very happy celebrating with the Seva Street family. It's my extended family now.

"Everyone was lining up for cake. Next time I will bring a bigger cake!"

More information about Seva Street can be found at sevastreet.org.


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