The Season of Giving
Christmas time, a time where we enjoy numerous celebrations, buy gifts and cook soul-warming food. A time for remembering those near and far and those that have departed. It’s also a time where homelessness is highlighted in the news, social media and on the Internet.
Following our recent shoe drives the latest drop being at Crepe City 12 in November 2014, we decided to use some of these donations to help the homeless here in London UK, last Christmas. Whilst on Instagram, I came across Tejani from the DoGood family who was organising helping the homeless over the Christmas period, he had been in touch with Justin Nelson who was going out on Christmas eve to help feed the homeless and we decided to get involved.
Armed with over 25 pairs of your donated sneakers, we accompanied Tejani, Peggy,__ and Justin. We also had hot food; warm clothes and Peggy had made personal hygiene packs – a really good idea in my opinion. These packs had wet wipes, toothpaste, toothbrushes and female hygiene products. Along with us came four children aged 10-12. We tend to spoil our children and at Christmas it’s even worse, I wanted to show them a different way of living and try to get them to start thinking and understanding just how fortunate they really are, I think Peggy had the same idea with her son. So off we took to the streets of London via the underground.
As soon as we came out of Leicester Square tube station we saw our first homeless man, squashed into a doorway and trying to keep warm with a duvet. As we gave him a pair of trainers and clothes and spoke to him about his plight, the youngest child Jaiden started to cry, I was completely taken aback, he had expressed his concern over coming with us. He said homeless people scared him, which made me want to take him even more to show him that these are just regular people who due to circumstance find themselves homeless. Once I’d calmed him down, I asked him why he was crying and he said “Its so sad to see people living this way mum, I don’t like that they live like this”. I’ll be honest I cried too and reminded him that whilst we couldn’t change where he lived we were helping him by giving him things that he couldn’t buy right now.
As we walked around, travelling closer to the strand and Charing Cross, we found more and more homeless people huddled under blankets, duvets and sleeping bags. Huddled in doorways, shop entrances or just on the cold bare pavement with no shelter from the freezing conditions. We came across squatters who had been evicted that evening and even a guy who worked in the Navy and was now living on the streets. We encountered some who spoke very little English and who were just trying to keep warm and safe on the streets. We found some more approachable than others, and some who we couldn’t help and some who just didn’t need or want anything explaining the more things they got the more things they would have to carry around with them. Due to such a large donation of trainers, they were able to have a choice in the type of shoe they wanted, some of the older men wanted something plain whereas the younger men were happy with a more younger looking shoe. We were even able to cater for some women who were also happy to be receiving some “new” footwear. For some because of the condition of their feet, they chose trainers that would stretch like the Huarache’s we had been given. Helping them to choose and try on the trainers and to see their gratitude for something as simple as a pair of used trainers was extremely touching.
It was a truly humbling experience, to realise just how hard it is being homeless, in the cold, with no-one to turn to. I know that sounds like a ridiculous statement, but we can always ignore the homeless, look away when we pass them, label them as “bums” and that any money they get they’ll spend on alcohol, but the majority are on the streets because of circumstance, they are human beings at the end of the day and they still need to be treated with dignity and respect. I have to say the children were great and I was so proud of them all, they spoke to people, listened to their stories, asked questions and wished them safe nights. They never complained, and their eyes were opened up to a world outside of them that is, in all honestly, on their doorstep.
The problem of homelessness and living on the streets is not going away, and at Christmas time everyone wants to remember and help those less fortunate, it’s the “season of giving”. Indeed we met a number of other groups doing exactly what we were doing, and that’s an incredible thing. Extra shelters are opened and for the month of December more homeless people are taken care of. For me, I think it’s important to remember the homeless all year round, if you find it hard to give them money then buy them some food, a drink, something. I think it’s important to go out every month and help whomever you can, why should they only be remembered at Christmas?
I want to say thanks to Justin Nelson, who organised it all and to the DoGood family who connected us all together. I also want to say a MASSIVE thank you to all of you who continue to donate sneakers at our shoe drives, you are making a difference to someone’s life even if you don’t realise it.
Our shoe drive initiative will be making even greater progress in 2015 and we will keep you informed as we move forward.