Adira’s Christmas Hampers
Comfort and joy in every box.
As part of our #AgeFriendlySheffield micro-funding project we helped fund a range of activities across our brilliant city. One of these was the return of Adira’s Christmas Hampers – an initiative which helps make sure families, who would otherwise go without, can enjoy a warm and tasty dinner on Christmas Day. Our Programme Coordinator Gilli Cliff went along to capture the story from volunteers involved and this is what she experienced…
Packing and then distributing five hundred festive food hampers to homes across Sheffield on 23rd December is no small challenge. When I turned up at “Hamper HQ” at 10 am that morning with a photographer in tow expecting to get a few photos and soundbites from folks helping out, I had no idea what I was getting into. As I walked through the door of Duchess Road Community Centre as well as the friendly greeting from one of the coordinators, I was met by sight of hundreds of empty festive themed packing boxes waiting to be filled with produce that was constantly being ferried into the packing room by volunteers. Other volunteers stood at tables running an efficient assembly line while someone kept the line fed with empty boxes.
Faced with so much going on there was nothing for it but to literally roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. Before long I was part of the human conveyor belt shifting along the boxes to be filled with Yorkshire puds, roast potatoes, chicken and other festive treats, much of which had been donated by local supermarkets.
We all worked flat out to keep up with the demand for full hamper boxes from those arriving at the community centre having volunteered themselves and their vehicles for delivery duties. What impressed me, apart from the huge energy everyone brought to the task, was the unspoken understanding of what was needed and how each individual took their place on the assembly line without being assigned a task or instructed what to do. It was very efficient, but I’ll admit that after an hour of relentless packing I was flagging, and it was time to pause and ask some of the people around me why they had volunteered.
ADIRA, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning ‘strong, dignified and powerful’ was founded in 2012 by Ursula Myrie and describe themselves as “survivor led” mental health and wellbeing organisation, supporting black people of all ages who have experienced, or who are currently experiencing, mental health issues. They approached Age Friendly Sheffield back in October 2021 when a call went out for proposals for the Active Ageing Micro- Fund which would support activities seen to promote the development of an age-friendly city. They aimed to provide five hundred hampers to people in ethnic minority communities who would be at risk of social isolation over the festive period due to financial exclusion, mental health issues or their recent arrival in Sheffield. The festive wellbeing hampers would provide all the ingredients and cooking instructions to enable people to prepare a culturally appropriate festive meal. One hundred hampers would be specifically earmarked for the Afghan community in Sheffield. Along with the food there would also be a greetings card and information for out of hours support for anyone facing a mental health crisis. The message they want to send is simple: “We see you. You are not forgotten”. For those who feel themselves to be at the margins of society, or whose recent arrival in the UK means they are far from all they know and love, this is perhaps the greatest gift they can receive.
In her proposal to the Age-friendly Sheffield micro-fund, Ursula listed among the key aims of the project: “to demonstrate that Sheffield, City of Sanctuary, is a place that extends a welcome to all regardless of race or religion” and “to remind those in our communities who are most vulnerable that they are not forgotten”. Among the people I spoke to while I caught my breath was a young woman who explained why she was volunteering to pack hampers:
“Last year I actually received help from ADIRA myself when I got a food package and it really means a lot to me to be able to do something for other people this year.”
She told me that getting a food parcel had made a massive difference to her, “I was on my own, I didn’t have a job and I was struggling to feed myself and do the basics. Having that parcel made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and it gave me a bit of time to get myself together so I could actually start being able to work and provide for myself.”
Two other volunteers working on our human conveyor belt explained why they thought giving their time was so important “It’s about giving something back and spreading joy and hope”, and “It’s showing we are part of a bigger family in Sheffield, not just our own small families”.
Before leaving I spoke to someone who’d volunteered to deliver some of those five hundred hampers. He told me, “I did it last year and it seems like a good use of my time before Christmas, I’ve got a big car and the time to help out”. This year he’d “roped” his daughter into helping too so what did she have to say about being volunteered? “I think it’s very important to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable Christmas and can enjoy it without stress”.
As I left, I was thanked by the person who had greeted me on my arrival at the community centre. I told him that it was me who should be thanking him as I’d just had an hour of joy and camaraderie with people who’d previously been complete strangers. I felt that I’d been given a wonderful opportunity to play a small part in Ursula’s vision, “To reach out to vulnerable people in ethnic minority communities over the festive period, fostering neighbourliness and a sense that people are not alone.” I hope they’ll have me back next year as a volunteer.