Sheffield soup kitchen founder ‘really upset’ at growth in homeless population
Children as young as seven are helping a Sheffield soup kitchen feed the city’s growing homeless population.
Volunteers from As-Salaam Foodbank can be found every Saturday evening outside the B&M discount store, near where Castle Market once stood, dishing out hot meals to people who would otherwise go hungry.
Its founder Shafiq Mohammed says the number of rough sleepers in the city centre is growing ‘on a daily basis’ and he finds it heartbreaking to see so many new faces queuing up for food alongside more familiar ones.
The foodbank, which also distributes fresh groceries throughout the week to those in need, was launched around six years ago by the Muslim-run Jamia Abdullah Bin Masood community centre in Darnall.
It is young students attending after-school classes there who man the stalls each Saturday, serving up home-cooked dishes prepared by a team of about a dozen adult volunteers.
Mr Mohammed, whose sons Rayhaan, aged eight, and Uthman, seven, are among the young helpers, said its volunteers hand out 50-60 portions each weekend and a church group working alongside them also distributes sandwiches – yet they’re still not always able to meet the demand between them.
“The number of homeless people is increasing on a daily basis and it’s really upsetting to see so many new people needing help,” said the 35-year-old accountant.
“These are vulnerable people, not bad people, and they’re always polite and really appreciative of what we do.
“It’s sad to see so many people from your own community sleeping on the streets and knowing there’s not much we can do for them other than to give them one hot meal a week.
“We try to give them what they want, based on the feedback we get, whether it’s chicken pasta, lasagne or shepherd's pie.”
Mr Mohammed said the foodbank, which was until recently known as JABM, was started after people running the community centre heard of children turning up for school without having eaten breakfast and wanted to do something to help.
It takes referrals from council workers and health visitors who will flag up those in need and what their preferences are, so volunteers can prepare a tailored package of fresh food that day.
Its chefs take it in turn to make meals on an industrial scale in their home kitchens at weekends, often cooking several kilos of pasta at a time, and funding the ingredients out of their own pockets.
Initially, volunteers would travel around the city centre finding rough sleepers but as word spread they were able to distribute from the same spot on Haymarket, where those in need know to find them every Saturday from 6pm.
“We get people of all ages coming to us, including one man who was just 17 or 18, and when you speak to them they all have different stories,” said Mr Mohammed.
“One man told us how he had been well-off and owned a few houses which he gave to his children and wife, but they ended up kicking him out.”
For more information about the foodbank and what you can do to support it, visit www.jabm.co.uk/food-bank.