The gift of giving: ELL’s guide to Xmas volunteering

Volunteering over Christmas Pic: Bill McChesney

Volunteering over Christmas Pic: Bill McChesney

How can you volunteer for a food bank or a homeless charity this Christmas and help those in need locally? ELL explains….

With Christmas fast approaching most people will be worrying about what to buy loved ones or struggle to choose between roast turkey or beef at the annual office get-together. But the festive season is not a joyous time for all.

Reports from Broadway, a London homelessness charity, show that in Lewisham, Croydon, Tower Hamlets and Hackney, the number of people sleeping on the streets has increased significantly in the period from 2009 to 2013.

There has also been a rise in people depending on food banks to provide relief, following cuts to welfare and average wages stuck well below the cost of living.

Remembering that Christmas is a time for giving, ELL has put together a guide to help you lend a hand to those who need it on your local community.


Croydon Food Bank

Founded last year, Croydon Food Bank works in partnership with local organisations and supermarkets, to help vulnerable people in crisis. They also accept donations from individuals.

They said: “With your help each recipient will get three days’ worth of food. This could make the difference in their lives and prevent them from committing crime or even worse. We urge you to remember that within Croydon everyday there are people going hungry and according to the Council, over 25% of children live in poverty within the borough.”

Croydon Nightwatch

Nightwatch volunteers go out every night to offer practical and emotional assistance to those without a home in the borough.

Among many other services, they run the Queen’s Gardens soup kitchen, which was threatened with closure recently, but was saved after local campaigners put pressure on Croydon Council.

They said: “Volunteers are involved in different tasks. Some volunteers do not work directly with the homeless, but contribute by making food, buying goods for us, administrative work or fundraising.”

Croydon Churches Floating Shelter

The Croydon Churches Floating Shelter (CCFS) offers overnight accommodation, food, shower facilities, and advice throughout the winter period to those living on the streets. Over 30 churches are now involved, some covering the period from November 1, to December 31, and others from January 1, to the end of March.

They said: “We are always grateful for new volunteers – you don’t have to be a member of any church – and if you feel you would like to help in any way, please contact us.


Hackney Food Bank

The Hackney Food Bank provides a minimum of three days of emergency food and support to local people in Hackney.

They are always in need of donations of in-date, non-perishable food items. A food bank shopping list can be downloaded to see what is needed. Donations can be dropped off at Safestore on 4 Somerford Grove in Stoke Newington, which is also allowing the food bank to use its storage space.

They said: “Your gifts of food, time or funds help stop local people going hungry. We couldn’t do what we do without you.”

Hackney Winter Night Shelter

Hackney Winter Night Shelter provides shelter for homeless people in Hackney during the winter, and year-round support to help guests find housing.

They said: “Volunteers are mostly local but are of all ages and backgrounds – many have been with us for years – meaning we have an invaluable community of volunteers to keep the shelter going. If you would like to help in future, get in touch via email or join our mailing list below for news about volunteering opportunities.”

North London Action for the Homeless

Based in Stoke Newington, North London Action for the Homeless is a small charity that provides a drop-in centre for the homeless. They run a kitchen serving a free three-course vegetarian meal twice a week. Monday lunch runs from 12pm to 1.30pm, and Wednesday supper runs rom 7pm to 8.30pm.

They said: “Volunteering at NLAH provides opportunities to get alongside people who are often needy, vulnerable, and sometimes challenging in their behaviour. A sympathetic attitude is more important than experience or knowledge.”


Lewisham Food Bank

With three centres across the borough, and 'Supermarket Collections' at local shops, there are plenty of opportunities to donate to Lewisham Food Bank, which provides emergency food for local people in crisis.

At supermarkets, donators are given a ‘food bank shopping list’ and asked to buy an extra item with their shop, which is then donated to the food bank.

They said: “Your gifts of time, funds or food can help stop local people going hungry. We could not do it without you.”

999 Club

Operating in Downham and Deptford, the 999 Club offers comfort, respite, advice and guidance to the most isolated, excluded and lonely people in society.

Their day-time centre provides day-time respite for the homeless until lunchtime on December 24, and re-opens on January 2. Their temporary night shelter also provides a bed and breakfast for up to 25 people and is open until December 23, reopening on January 2.

They said: “In the day centre volunteers will offer general assistance with serving tea, toast and a light lunch. At the night centre there are three shifts available to volunteers, ranging from welcoming and befriending guests in the evening, to serving breakfast and assisting with check-out in the morning.”

“We are especially in need of volunteers with specialist skills, such as hair-dressers, dentists and opticians.”

Deptford and New Cross Food Bank

The first of its kind in the UK, the Deptford and New Cross Food Bank is located alongside a charity shop that funds the outlet. Currently it helps over 500 families, and expects the number to rise.

They said: “Please consider donating a Christmas dinner for a user of the food bank. If you’d like to donate some food but haven’t yet made it down with your sack of spuds, here’s a quick and easy way to help feed your neighbours in need this winter.”


After their most successful Christmas year in 2012, Crisis have ten centres across London open between December 23 and 30, including one in Deptford. Nearly 3,000 guests are expected to visit their centres across the capital this year.

Crisis at Christmas offers hot meals, shelter, and a wide range of essential services that homeless people often miss out on.

They said: “We need more than 8,000 volunteers to make it happen, from those willing to 'muck in' and help out anywhere to people with particular skills like dentists, hairdressers, lorry drivers and performers.  We are particularly looking for Night Owls - general volunteers willing to do night shifts - as we always have a shortage of these.”

Whitefoot & Downham Community Food + Project

Whitefoot & Downham Community Food + Project is a voluntary community based project to support people or families who are experiencing hardship and issues relating to poverty.

Founded by six local churches, collections take place every Thursday from 7pm - 8.30pm at Whitefoot Lane Christian Centre, where people can drop by to donate food.

You can also sign up to volunteer at the Thursday gatherings by writing local project Councillor, Janet Daby on

Living Waters Christian Centre

The Living Waters Christian Centre teamed up with Esther Community Enterprise in 2012 to start the local food bank at the Honor Oak Community Centre in Lewisham. Open every Wednesday from 6pm - 9pm and Sundays from 10am - 2pm, the food bank accepts both food donations and toiletries.

They said: "The Food Bank is aimed at helping those in need (on benefits) as well as those who may not be on benefits but are experiencing hardship in their lives."


Tower Hamlets Food Bank

The Tower Hamlets Food Bank was launched in the winter of 2010 and is coordinated by the charity First Love Foundation. You can support Tower Hamlets Food Bank by donating food, giving some of your time to help with collections, sorting and distribution, or simply making a financial gift. However you choose to get involved, you'll be helping to provide emergency food for local people in crisis.

They said: “In the borough of Tower Hamlets, 72% of its 237,900 residents are deprived. With rising food and energy prices combined with low income, children are going hungry every day – with parents having to make the stark choice between heating and eating. We could never function as an organisation without the help of our dedicated team of volunteers.”


GrowTH has run a free emergency homeless night shelter each winter for the last three years. In recent years they have expanded their provision, with over 400 volunteers from 25 different local churches.

They provide free emergency accommodation to street homeless and those at immediate risk of rough sleeping.

They said: “Our volunteers’ generosity means that we can make a real difference this Christmas and throughout the winter. One of our guests told me that the night he spent in one of our shelters was the first safe, uninterrupted sleep he had had in ages. This makes it all worth it.”

Crisis Skylight Café: Christmas Dinner

This is not a shelter or a soup kitchen, but a BYOB café serving festive food and employing people affected by homelessness. Skylight Café is a social enterprise that helps their trainees into stable employment.

They said: “By having your Christmas party with us, you are helping to fund our training programme which helps people who have experienced homelessness and time in prison with a route back to employment.”

To make a booking, contact Ekiker Mfon on 020 7426 3867/ or visit Skylight Café, 64 Commercial Street, London E1.

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