Tea, samosas, berry crumble, clothes and gloves too… SWAT members load the stuff in a van and reach central London by 5.30pm where a massive queue awaits them. They serve food, distribute other items and wrap up by 8.30pm, to return three days later to feed hundreds who have lined up again. A common concept […]
Tea, samosas, berry crumble, clothes and gloves too… SWAT members load the stuff in a van and reach central London by 5.30pm where a massive queue awaits them. They serve food, distribute other items and wrap up by 8.30pm, to return three days later to feed hundreds who have lined up again. A common concept in Punjab, langars such as this one are succor for life for Britain’s homeless.
Around 25 volunteers from Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team (SWAT) feed the homeless every Thursday and Sunday. “We’re independent from gurdwaras and our volunteers are a mix of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and we feed 300-450 on Sundays; usually a little less on Thursdays,” says Randeep Lall, who heads the central London team.
Before the langar, they pack different stuff into the van. “We try to take along what we notice was lacking the previous week. We’re taking umbrellas next,” he tells. When it comes to food, they try to make that too interesting for people. “There’s a professional chef who volunteers. He’s previously made berry crumble, vegetarian lasagne and potato pie,” he adds.
However, food is not their only concern. “Volunteers serve food, some monitor the queue, some clean afterwards and some just talk to the needy—make sure they’re okay. Not all are homeless; some are drug addicts and some just come because they are lonely,” he says. The team does not leave until 8:30pm, and the homeless are always grateful. “‘I love you’, ‘You’re angels’ and ‘God bless you’ are what we commonly get to hear after the langar. Sometimes, it’s their first meal in days,” he adds.
Lall says that though SWAT helps in areas such as Southall, central London is a totally different ballgame. “There are 14 gurdwaras in the city and langar is readily available there. But there is problem of homelessness,” he says.
“In Southall, there are several homeless Punjabis, Indians and Pakistanis. In 2009, there were 200 of them and we had launched a huge online campaign to highlight the issue. We went to see our local MP regarding this, but we were told that they were breaking the law and shouldn’t be here in the first place. The problem didn’t exist for him,” Lall says. SWAT decided to take it upon itself to help. “Some of us visit the homeless everyday and make sure they’ve eaten as many don’t feel comfortable going to the gurdwaras. We give them what they need: food, clothes and advise them on where they need to go about drug problems and immigration issues,” he adds. Even though he says that they have helped significantly since 2009, about 30 are still on the streets, usually due to heroin addiction and that is a major concern for them, says Lall.
Amritpal Singh manages the SWAT team in Birmingham, working alongside the gurdwara. “The team feeds the homeless every Saturday and Sunday night. “We usually have 7-20 volunteers and they include 8-year-olds to those above 70 years of age. And they come from a cross-section of society. There are Somalis, Jamaicans and a lot of students from the University Hindu Society,” Singh says. They serve about 200 meals each time.
Preparation is the key to such a big operation. “We meet at 4pm to load foods such as pasta, sabzi and roti and we’re usually ready to leave by 7pm. Volunteers leave from the gurdwara to the city centre in a minibus,” he shares.
Another group promoting organized langar for the homeless is Midland Langar Seva Society that has served over 67,000 meals since 2013 and has teams throughout the country. Parmjit Singh is one of the founders. “In Walsall, roughly 60 volunteers feed the homeless everyday; whether they are out on the streets or at a homeless shelter, we help,” he says. “Though the organization is based on Sikh principles, we’re not exclusively Sikh. We have a large amount of Hindus and Muslims who help and serve alongside us,” he says. The volunteers serve whatever the sangat is able to donate. “Stuff like choley, rice, pasta, tea, biscuits and soda and we also distribute non-food items like blankets,” he adds. What they gain in return is, for them, awe-inspiring: Thanks, tears and hugs. “That unites everyone,” he says.
SWAT teams feeds the homeless in four places and MLSS feeds in nine places
~ Source : TOI