What lead you to Shelter from the Storm?
I read an article about the shelter in the Sunday Times by AA Gill and food writer Lucas Hollweg They came to cook a meal one Christmas and wrote movingly about their experience. I’d been thinking for a while about volunteering somewhere but hadn’t known where to start looking - or what I could offer. Nor had I realised how important a part a daily meal plays in the routine of SFTS and similar establishments. I mean it seems obvious enough in retrospect, but there you go. I dropped Sheila (the director) an email and she asked me to turn up on the following Thursday. That was four years ago.
What does an average volunteering day look like for you?
I’m a professional cook, so I peel off my apron at work, jump on a train from Hackney to Islington and then pop another one straight back on. Guests coming in from the street, particularly when it’s cold, usually head straight to make a tea or coffee, so the first task is getting the hot water urn filled and boiling. Once that’s done, I’ll have a look through the fridge to see what the choices are for supper, keeping an eye on the kitchen diary to see what’s been made over the last couple of days. It’s good to keep the menu varied. We do a meat or fish main every day, which the majority of guests eat, and a vegetarian option too, which is increasingly popular. I always try to make sure that the meal is balanced and that we use as much fresh veg as possible. As more volunteers arrive, the work expands. Bread to be sliced, veg to be chopped, potatoes to be peeled, tables to be set. We aim to serve the food at 7.30 but for guests’ safety we also need to make sure that everything is at the proper temperature, so this is flexible. Once the meal is served, with some set aside for latecomers, we set about clearing up (which the restaurant-style dishwasher in the shelter allows us to do pretty quickly). By popular demand, we usually serve ice cream too...
What’s the best part about volunteering?
There are lots of positive things about volunteering. It would be hard to pick any one in particular. Really though, it’s about doing your best for people who are in need. One evening in a week when you can give of yourself fully, making and sharing a nourishing and sustaining meal. It’s common humanity.
And it’s also very social. All the volunteers are lovely and firm friendships are frequently made. I look forward to it every week and miss it when I’m unable to go.
What’s your most popular recipe?
Curry night is always popular - we do a couple of curries, raita, onion bhajis and poppadums. Otherwise any sort of sturdy pie goes down well. But the menu is usually determinedby what I think the guests will want to eat, rather than what I want to make.