When I applied to be a volunteer at a young homeless charity, I didn’t imagine cooking would be such a big part of it. It’s an amazing charity, the staff and volunteers provide a space for people to come and get a hot meal, shower, do their washing and get help applying for jobs, housing etc. It has a family atmosphere, but a family who are totally supportive and non-judgemental.
Before Covid, there were 5 or so volunteers a day, and maybe 20 young people to feed and help. Two of us would cook: I would make the veggie option - mainly from donated food - then we would all sit down and eat and chat together. I really enjoyed getting in and seeing what food was available from donations to create the recipes for a meat and veggie option.
We encouraged the young people to help, and sometimes they did; this was a good time to talk to them, they would open up as they cooked. One of the young people trained with Gordon Ramsey and is a talented, natural cook. I’ve learnt a lot from him, and everyone was keen to try his creations.
There are problems with addiction, of course, and sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to eat. We had a lot of mushrooms one day so I made burgers with them. It wasn’t the best food I’d cooked, the mixture was too wet so I kept adding flour. They looked awful, but tasted pretty good.
One of the young people was having a particularly hard time and wasn’t eating.
“Come on Jim*, have something to eat” I said.
“What is it?”
“Nah, come on, try them, they’re lovely”
He tried one, went away, ate it, and came back for another. That was a good day!
We’ve been doing takeaway food in this year’s lockdown. Only 2 volunteers cook each day now and we get about 10 young people turning up for food each day. Still the same Ready Steady Cook! method and we still get to chat to them through a serving hatch, though it’s not quite the same.
I’m looking forward to the time we can welcome them inside again, to chat and cook. Cooking for these young people really is a comforting thing for all involved, I think they feel cared for in a way they maybe haven’t before.
*not their real name