A Gift of Spirit

The homeless charity, Shelter, in a recent report, estimated that at least 307,000 people in the UK were sleeping rough or staying in temporary accommodation such as homeless hostels. This is an increase of 13,000 in just one year. Closer investigation of these figures shows that in Manchester, for example, one in 154 are homeless. This compares to one in 266 the year before. Clearly this is a crisis affecting this and other communities. While governmental changes to the system will come with this 2018’s Homelessness Reduction Act, there are no drastic overnight changes expected. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of this, and other difficult issues. It’s also obvious that something needs to be done on the ground.

In December 2017, in the run up to Christmas, we heard about a charitable community project organised by Salford Spiritualist Church called “Gifts for the Homeless.” The idea started in October 2016, and committee member Danny Goodchild CSNU tells us, “We wanted to collect warm coats, blankets, hats, scarves and gloves for the Homeless on Manchester. We asked members at our services for donations of warm clothing and the response was fantastic. Although very short notice we gathered approximately 35 bags to give, some also collected by Wigan Spiritualist Church.”

Danny went on to explain the value of working in partnership to increase the impact of the project, recalling “Our first idea was to distribute the clothes ourselves, but because of the short time and lack of knowledge about taking on such a big task we decided to take them to an already established homeless charity, Barnabus. The items were gladly accepted, and while chatting to them we found other items such as toothpaste, peanut butter, sugar and some toiletries were needed.  We collected further items until the New Year and also gave them to Barnabus.“

As the 2017 Christmas period approached, the Committee decided they would build on previous experience, and distribute the collected items themselves. “We felt we wanted to give more personal items to those on the streets,” explained Danny, “just to say we were thinking of them. We decided on assembling 30 waterproof bags; inside would be two pair of new socks, a warm hat, gloves, men or women’s toiletries, chocolates and cakes - just little personal items. We received donations from our members and also local organisations. We were able to take nine parcels to everyone in a men’s homeless hostel, and to an old people’s residential home where new socks were given to each resident - another 31 in total. People still brought in warm clothes, coats and even a sleeping bag. These were taken to The Booth Centre in Manchester, which gives items to those in real need.”

Due to their hard work, the bags were ready by mid-December. Danny reported, “We distributed the personal bags, and we talked to both men and women living on the streets of Manchester. The bags were gone within an hour. To be thanked by those who have nothing is quite humbling. We gave the last bag at a soup kitchen that is set up every other Sunday in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens. The line was long, not only filled with the homeless, but also those who have somewhere to live but no money for food. The amount of people was staggering.”

Like many other churches and groups of Spiritualists, Salford Church and friends realised that a difference could be made without having to raise massive amounts of money. They recognised that their thoughtfully targeted efforts would make a difference at a time of heightened need.  They present an idea that others may wish to follow, or be inspired to find an opportunity for community action that meets a need in their locality. The story demonstrates the power of working in partnership, not only within the church community, but with other specialist organisations. We know this is already happening in many places, and highlights the power of volunteers working together.

We’ll leave the last thoughts for Danny, who said, “In the car back to church, we all said how sad that we did not have enough bags for everyone. We knew no matter how many we had, it would never be enough. The short connection helped us know it is better to do something than do nothing at all. We have already started planning for next year.“

Danny Goodchild CSNU, talking to Alv Hirst (In SNU Today February 2018)