Although I have been Chairman of Cheltenham Open Door since November and have popped along to deliver donations, visited St Lukes last Christmas Day, collected food at school to drop off and been around on a sunday or midweek when lunch was served I hadnt really engaged with many of the guests until today when I became Dennis for a day!
Dennis is one of our staff who collects the food donated at supermarkets and is given the shopping list to feed between 60-70 people three times a week plus give out food parcels. He carries the food up flights of stairs at NO. 39 Grosvenor Street and also mans the street outside as our Guests arrive for their lunch. Everyone knows him and over the many years he has worked at Open Door has cooked, cleaned, shopped, chatted, laughed and sorted out any and there is hardly any bad behaviour as our gentle giant!
Today was a record as we fed 70 people between 10.50 and 12.30. There is a range of people that come to collect a lunch. Many are really friendly, chatty and when I was a little bit nosey were quite happy to tell me their story. Not everyone is homeless. Many have accommodation but some do live on the street from an accident, redundancy, family issues, mental health issues, addiction or are just lonely. That brings me to Martin. He is a lovely man with a healthy appetite! who lives in Cheltenham but all of his family have died and he is lonely! He gets the bus to Number 39 and is well known to all. I remember doing a vlog with him a while ago where he told me how great the food is and how friendly and welcoming everyone is at Cheltenham Open Door. Today there was a quiz going on as they collected their food. Sara aka the Van lady on social media is always front of house as she has worked there for over 20 years. with her lovely pink hair she stands behind the plastic screen and yells to the guests patiently waiting outside in a socially distanced queue (that was my job today) NEXT!!! the quiz question today was how many times had the three staff Den, Sara and Rosie, Rosie the amazing chef and website director and general process person! (she will like that!) how many times had the three of them been married in total and how many children did they have between them! The question was discussed by many before they got to the front of the queue.
While waiting there was a box of little toiletries that they could sort through and have. The majority from bathrooms in hotels that people take when on holiday. They have been donated and a lady arrived to drop some off while I was controlling the queue today. She said that there might not be anymore for a while as her friends wouldn,t be going away! After collecting their hot lunch…Big Mac with cheese and banoffi pie…that reminds me I didnt get any!!! and a food parcel… there was also a box of random tins etc that they could also take if they were early enough.
Who did I meet today? Anna and Roger. Anna was feeling low and I asked Roger if he looked after her but she said she looked after him! They were jovial, friendly and cheerful. A guy I recognised from my visit on Christmas Day who hadnt been able to get any work. A young girl who looked fresh faced and naive although after chatting to the staff afterwards maybe I was the naive one! but I was struck by another guy, who talked to me about his daughter whom he had taken some soap for, as he was warning the young girl not to get sucked into a group that might be part of a drug infused circle.
There is a sense of companionship and respect for each other along with a welcoming and most importantly a non judgemental atmosphere which has encouraged so many to come along three days a week. The staff are frustrated that they cannot offer the guests showers and laundry facilities at this time but everyone seems to be pleased to see each other and a few like to hang around a while to chat.
It was enlightening and humbling today and made me extremely proud of the amazing staff that make Cheltenham Open Door what it is for so many….