I heard recently of someone who my Cyrenians colleagues are supporting through their homelessness whose bed and breakfast accommodation is so limited they are cooking food in flasks. 21st century Scotland and one of our fellow citizens is reduced to heating meals in flasks. It’s shocking and it’s immoral. It’s hard enough living through the insecurity of homelessness, without also not being able to access the facilities to cook affordable meals. Yet this is the daily reality for so many people in temporary accommodation in our city.
We do what we can to alleviate this tough reality with our cooking classes, our community cook clubs and the food we can provide through our FareShare operation which uses surplus supermarket food to provide 18,000 meals a week to people in vulnerable situations. We are not the only ones serving food in this way. Many other organisations across the city do similar things: The Bethany Care van, the meals provided through The Grassmarket Community Project and Salvation Army, the work of Streetwork in their Crisis centre are just a few examples of many other organisations feeding empty stomachs and filling bare kitchens.
Cyrenians grow food on our farm, selling our produce through our vegbag scheme. We run two community gardens; one in the grounds of the Royal Edinburgh and one in Midlothian hospitals. We’ve been able to show how patients who take part in the activities in the gardens recover more quickly.
Food binds us as human beings. Whatever our story we have to eat. We eat to survive. We eat to build relationships, to create community, we eat to celebrate and to mark significant rites of passage. As winter sets in thoughts go perhaps to how we will celebrate the Christmas season and the food which will be central to those shared times. The “works Christmas night out” is an industry in itself these days. Cyrenians are offering a unique opportunity in that regard – for a group between x and y we’ll provide a state-of-the art kitchen and a Syrian chef from the refugee community who’ll teach you how to make the most sublime Middle Eastern meal – the last one had nine courses – which you then get to eat. I promise you it’s a brilliant evening and you can know the money you are spending will go towards Cyrenians’ work stopping homelessness and supporting people – including the chefs for whom this is a real step to employment on their journey from refugee to full participation in their new community.
But if cooking dinner as an evening entertainment is not your thing you can still help those in need of support whilst you have your Christmas meal – or even just a meal out over the festive period. We are also participating in the Streetsmart campaign which asks diners to add £1 to their bill at participating restaurants so those who are facing homelessness at Christmas can get the support they need. It’s a small gesture, but one which, if made many times will make a big difference.
We have lots of restaurants taking part including: Café St Honore, Wedgewood, Harvey Nichols, La Garrigue, David Bann, The Little Chart Room, The Kitchin, Castle Terrace Restaurant, Punjabi Junction, Leftfield, Ostara, Roseleaf and Leith Depot but we are looking for more to join in so if you know of one who you think might help – or if you run a restaurant and would like to support this initiative – please get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Let’s do what we all can this Christmas to make sure those whose journey is uncertain, whose reality is a struggle, have the chance not just to eat well, but get to a new place of hope and opportunity – the kind of gift which feeds not just our body but our soul.
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians