Volunteering at St. Chad’s can bring up so many different tasks. From making teas and coffees, to collecting donations, sorting and storing them, to providing clients with food, hygiene packs and clothes and supporting those housed in hostels in the surrounding areas. No Friday is ever the same. The volunteers at St. Chad’s are a really big mix from local parishes to Jesuit novices, corporate volunteers as well as refugees and asylum seekers. We all pile on in together, helping where we can and slotting into the different roles which arise.
For the last week in November, our morning was very quiet. With it being very cold outside we had few clients, which gave us a wonderful opportunity as volunteers to catch up and wrap some gifts for those in the hotels in Birmingham. Preparing for the cold winter ahead, as we all know, is so important, and even more so for those who arrive on our shores with only the clothes they are standing in, so these gifts included new socks, gloves, a hat, a scarf and some shower gel. So even though it was the last week in November we cranked up the Christmas tunes, cracked out the wrapping paper and got stuck in.
I was paired up with another volunteer, an asylum seeker from Nigeria, who had never wrapped a present before! We had a great time working together working out how to best fold the paper, and quickly settled on a roll and fold system. She did the wrapping and I the sticking. We had a great laugh, and I must admit her wrapping skills at the end of the day were much better than many people I know!
What’s even better is knowing how much these small gifts, that we so often take for granted, will mean to those that receive them. One client I spoke to turned up in a thin jumper and told me how he had spent last winter in between Belgium and France in the snow with very little. He was so deeply grateful to have shelter and support this year. I watched as his eyes lit up when we were able to provide him with some warmer clothes, a thick winter coat and one of the parcels. He especially loved the hat which he placed upon his head and proclaimed himself the height of fashion to rapturous laughter and applause.
I’m always blown away at the gratitude, humility and humour of those who seemingly have so little to give. What they lack in material goods they make up for in spirit, heart and courage, so that whatever we give, no matter how small, we receive so much more in return. It’s so hard at the moment to not feel disheartened, frustrated or overwhelmed by the news of those crossing the channel or stuck between Poland and Belarus and our own Government’s response. Yet somehow the people I volunteer alongside, and those that arrive at the door, never fail to lift my spirits, to give me hope and bring a smile to my face.
So this Advent, Christmas and New Year I want to carry this hope, to find the peace in my heart, and share the joy and love present in the Christmas story. In each of my daily encounters I hope this hope inspires and reminds me of the kingdom we are all working to build.