An excerpt of an interview by Shapa Begum of The Dulwich OnView:
Harvest of Grace is a group of volunteers, run by Grace Sotinrin, providing meals every Saturday for those that need it, young and old, and helping them with boxed food for Sunday. They receive no funding whatsoever. It is entirely run by volunteers and donations.
In addition to the provision of meals, Harvest of Grace also helps their beneficiaries in many other ways, from finding clothing for them, to helping sort out and furnishing accommodation.
I arrived at Harvest of Grace not knowing what to expect at all. There was no website to research, and nothing online about Grace herself, practically unheard of in this day and age.
I soon realised why – it is completely funded by Grace, her children and private donations. Every single penny goes towards feeding close to 200 beneficiaries every single Saturday, with enough food boxed to carry them through Sunday too.
One person came in and swept and mopped the floor. He introduced himself as Gonzo, and spent a good half an hour teasing me. He has a great sense of humour and an exceedingly sharp wit.
He then sat down quietly and asked ‘Miss Grace’ for his meal. Gonzo was a beneficiary, not a volunteer.
Many of the beneficiaries were helping as well as being helped.
Gonzo, spoke about how much the service “saved him”. He works in security, for an organisation that hasn’t joined the ‘Living Wage’ initiative in London, and really struggles to make ends meet. “Especially by the end of the week. If I didn’t have this, I probably wouldn’t eat at the weekend.”
Another beneficiary, Gomi, said “I am depressed at the moment, and spending time at the kitchen helps me interact and get me out of my shell. As well as food, I get clothes from them, I am grateful.”
One of the lovely things to see was people from the same communities and countries speaking in their own languages, and catching up over lunch.
Nikki, another beneficiary, said “My daughter and I came from Nigeria, but were refused asylum. My daughter is 14. We were staying with a friend, but when she moved we were made homeless. Harvest of Grace provided us with accommodation and support.”
Grace not only cooks and provides community continuity; she also has intervened to make sure that some of her service users get into temporary accommodation, get TB checks, blood tests, and even mentoring. So far Grace has mentored 5 young people back into education and away from homelessness to ensure a better future.
Grace makes a huge difference to the families that eat at Harvest of Grace every weekend. She really struggles herself to find the money each week to make sure everyone that needs to can eat. As she says herself, “I have to trust that I’ll always find a way.” And she has so far.
21 OCTOBER 2013