OK, so it’s been a while since Christmas but Aspects wanted to let you all know about the alternative Christmas four of our students had this year due to the student volunteering scheme here at Aston.
Charlotte Sims, Maria Wang, Andreea Balan and Wenxi Luo all spent their Christmas holidays volunteering at Birmingham Christmas Shelter. Birmingham Christmas Shelter (formerly Birmingham Open Christmas) has been operating for over 30 years and was set up as a registered charity in June 1991.
It provides warmth, shelter, food and company to the homeless and lonely of Birmingham during the Christmas period, providing an essential service during a time when many other services are closed. All of the volunteers are unpaid and give up their free time.
Here is Charlotte’s diary to give you an insight into the valuable work she did this Christmas:
16 December 2009
I was a bit nervous before arriving at the shelter but when I arrive I listen to some of the trustees explain our role and what will happen throughout the week. Everybody who works for the shelter is a volunteer from the trustees to the chefs. There will be lots of different roles for me from helping to peel the vegetables and prepare the food, serving the food, tidying up, escorting people to the toilets and showers and providing them with entertainment. I cannot wait to start.
22 December 2009: Set up day
It is absolutely freezing as I walk to the shelter this morning and I think about the half a million people in the UK who would have been sleeping on the streets last night. When I arrive I help to move all of the donated food into the kitchen: there is so much that I feel overwhelmed by how generous people are. We lay out chairs and tables, sort donated clothing, stock the toiletries in the showers and clean the mattresses and the shelter is starting to look ready. It opens its doors tomorrow and my next shift is Christmas Eve!
24 December 2009: 12 – 5pm shift
I was given a red shirt on arrival. The trustees wore blue shirts whilst experienced volunteers had yellow shirts. I was asked to mingle with the guests and get to know them. I helped to serve the food, which was either a choice of cottage pie or vegetarian pasta bake cooked by professional chefs who also volunteer - it was yummy!
I then worked on the coffee bar serving hot drinks - it surprised me how much guests ate straight after lunch – and then talked to a few more guests. This time the guests I met were not homeless but had come to the shelter because they do not want to be alone at Christmas. I helped to set up Monopoly and a Bingo which the guests loved as they got to win prizes such as shower gel and chocolates.
I was sad to leave because I was having lots of fun and had met lovely people. As well as warmth and hot food, there were showers, access to the internet, books, a chiropodist, a dentist, a GP, the Samaritans and a barber. There were also people who entertained guests throughout the day – a pantomime and music recitals!
25 December 2009 10pm – 7:30am night shift
As I arrived the guests were watching a DVD in the main room. I worked on the coffee bar for the first hour, washing up and serving drinks.
The guests had to go to the sleeping room at 11 or leave the shelter and come back when they wanted to sleep to give us time to tidy the main room. Bill, a 78 year old homeless man really touched my heart.
Hear Bill’s story.
After setting up heating, I mopped floors, cleaned tables, washed up dishes and prepared for the next day. Some of the guests helped us to tidy up to show how grateful they were for our help. I was meant to stay until 2am but because I was enjoying helping so much I stayed until 7:30am! I went home feeling exhausted but extremely happy.
The guests were so friendly and grateful for our help. The volunteers I worked with were amazing and I met some great friends. All of the volunteers met for a meal on 31 January and it was fantastic to see them again. I have been asked to play an active role in fundraising for the shelter. I want to volunteer again this year and then hopefully next year have the privilege of wearing a yellow t-shirt!
Now every time I moan that its cold or that I am hungry I think about the people on the streets and realise how lucky I am. This Christmas, although hard work, was my best Christmas yet and I am definitely going to volunteer every year.
If anybody told me that they were thinking of volunteering I would definitely recommend it as it is such a rewarding experience.
Watch the YouTube video of the services offered by the Shelter.
Watch the YouTube video featuring guests of the Shelter.