Last week, across the city of Edinburgh, beautiful rainbow lights lit up the night sky as a symbol of hope to mark the one-year anniversary of lockdown.
How we have needed hope.
Hope in the midst of sorrow as we remember the thousands of people who have died of Covid-19 and their families and friends who are carrying the weight of grief.
Hope as those who were already struggling to make ends meet, week by week, have been left even more destitute with reduced access to support.
Hope for those who have fallen through every gap in terms of government support and have been left penniless – literally.
And although, at times I have felt overwhelmed by some of the situations that people are walking through, I do believe in hope. I have even felt hopeful.
Friends, neighbours, and strangers have conveyed this hope, as they have intentionally lived in ways that have supported and cared for their city and communities.
I have written before about the incredible support we as Soul Food have received; from local restaurants and chefs, from those of you who gave us money and from the many trusts and grant bodies who made Covid-19 relief money easily accessible. I am responding to the hundreds of emails we received offering voluntary support. I only wish we could have worked with every single person – it would be great to meet you! Sadly, restrictions meant we had to reduce our teams and volunteers to a minimum. (Please write to us again though as restrictions ease!) In all of this, I saw so much hope.
A man called William, regularly sent us money to pay for an entire Soul Food meal. He also sent a huge box of brand-new gloves in the winter as he was concerned that the folk who came along to our take-away stands would be cold.
The Little Chart Room restaurant raised over £7,000 and each Saturday in the summer, cooked for 80 families across the city.
Chefs who had lost their jobs at the beginning of Lockdown, voluntarily cooked for us every week when we were delivering food across the city and hosting take away stands. They are still cooking for us, one year on…
The wonderful Pizza Geeks not only supply us regularly with pizzas or vouchers we can give away, but Finn and Pat (the founding Pizza Geeks!), helped us pack up all our meals that were delivered across the city throughout the first lockdown.
Students from ‘Just Love’ in St Andrews became delivery drivers and have also raised money to help support a family with no recourse to public funds.
Hawksmoor set up a Soul Food take away stand on a Sunday through the summer and they continue to cook an entire meal for us every other week.
Waitrose in Morningside approached us with a gift a money and the offer of continued support.
Robbie, from Street Soccer was an incredible ally and support, offering extra support to many who are part of the Soul Food community.
Every time we have asked for ‘help’ on social media, so many of you have responded.
I really could go on and on, but I am scared that if I do, I will miss someone out as there were so many incredible ways that our little charity was shown support.
And because of your support, we were able to offer hope.
All of it, each and every gift whether time or money, meant that we have been able to respond to people directly and instantly if they have needed support. Over the last year we have been able to help folk with food parcels, supermarket vouchers, gas and electricity top- ups, mobile phones, WiFi, clothes, and so much more.
Thanks to the generosity of Central church, Life church and Carrubbers Christian Centre we have three new Soul Food meals in operation. Across Edinburgh we have 8 Soul Food meals in operation, with more due to open soon. At the beginning of lockdown we had 4. Although these take away stands don’t fully embody the values of Soul Food in that they are not a sit-down community meal, they have been a lifeline to hundreds of people. Rainbows, if you like. Hope.
A few weeks ago I received an email that said:
“I stumbled across Soul Food in March 2020 and I was immediately welcomed through the door. Hearty, home-cooked meals across Edinburgh all through the week, but more importantly, friendship, community and support. The food is great, but for me, it is their promise to walk alongside anyone who would like support, a place where you know you are not on your own.”
One of our greatest values is that Soul Food is always ‘more than a meal’. Through every meal and table set, we hope to offer support, respite, refuge, friendship and community to those experiencing homelessness, poverty, addiction, isolation and loneliness. A Soul Food meal (or take-away!) is a declaration that we care deeply about the fact that people in our city are hungry. It is a statement of intent to engage in any way possible in this issue of injustice. A Soul Food meal is an offer of friendship and solidarity to anyone who finds themselves pushed to the edges and it is a promise to walk alongside our neighbours in the situations that they are experiencing.
We would like to begin these meals in more communities across Scotland and England in this next year, and we wondered if you could help us to do this?
Up until now, it has just been me (Jenny) fulfilling all the roles of our little charity. We would love to be able to bring in someone else to help us establish more meals. Every time a church sets up a new Soul Food, we give all our support, training and help for free. We also give grants to help new meals begin and then further grants as the meals develop. We are due to begin an urban leadership programme (with the Newbigin Trust) to offer training and mentoring to folk who are part of our Soul Food communities and we hope to begin to make connections with local businesses that can offer employment to those who have been homeless and are looking for work. Through our meals, we want to offer the emergency support needed, but also want to offer the longer-term support that will bring hope for the future.
Although last year we received incredible financial support, just when we needed it, we also lost a number of regular givers due to individual’s financial circumstances changing. Regular givers are a real lifeline to us as they help us to budget for the year. Would you consider becoming a regular donor to Soul Food and help us to begin more Soul Food meals? Any amount that you could afford each month, would be hugely appreciated. For more info and to sign up please click on this link. As a 'thank you' we will send you a pack of our 'Hope' cards to send to your family and friends.
The rainbow lights across Edinburgh last week reminded me that this is a hope – full city. But there is more work to do. Will you be part of bringing greater hope, not only to this city, but cities across Scotland and England? Setting beautiful tables that offer friendship and support, refuge and respite, that just like rainbows, will remind powerfully, that there is hope.
There is always hope, dear friends.
And we each can be purveyors of it.