For so many of us – certainly, for me – Christmas means time spent with family, copious amounts of food, the exchanging of gifts (and we try to squeeze Mass in when we can!) It’s also a time of year that inevitably needs a lot of planning; from gift-buying to hanging up decorations and cooking Christmas dinner. As you make your preparations at home, so do we here at JRS UK.
Each year, we try to create some of this atmosphere of anticipation and joy for those who regularly visit our Thursday Day Centre. In 6 days’ time, it will be our last weekly Day Centre before Christmas and we will open our doors to as many as 240 of our refugee friends. The final Day Centre of the year is always a special, festive occasion for us, and our volunteer chef works for weeks to prepare an exceptional menu for our refugee friends. This year will be no different. Very soon volunteers and staff will be putting in a big order for the delicious Christmas meal of fried fish, Lamb curry, curried rice, plantain and salad. I for one can’t wait!
Many of our refugee friends tell me the warm welcome and hot meal they receive at our Day Centre, means a great deal – especially in a society that is becoming increasingly ‘hostile’ to refugees. Traditionally a time for celebration, I know that Christmas can feel like an especially difficult time for our friends who are left destitute by a cruel, unjust Asylum system. They have no state support, or permission to work, and as such have nothing to live on.
This is why I am so pleased that at our final Day Centre of the year, we will be offering our refugee friends a travel money grant, plus an added Christmas bonus to last them over the Christmas season. We rely on the help of volunteers and donors to make it possible to support refugee friends in this way; your generous gifts go directly towards this vital support we offer.
As well as financial support we will also give those we serve and accompany gifts of ‘Vinnie’ packs, with the support of St Vincent de Paul. These cold-weather packs contain winter essentials to help our friends keep warm over the next few weeks; from toiletries to warm socks, gloves and hats. These are so important as many of our friends experience the worst of the winter cold through street homelessness.
Sadly, as well as a time of joy, Christmas can be a time of loneliness and of isolation, especially when you’re going through a difficult time, or when you’re far from family. This is the case for a lot of our refugee friends, many of whom feel isolated and know the New Year is unlikely to bring change. Many of them may struggle to get a chance to talk with loved ones on Christmas day.
This is why I’m really glad that, with your support, we will also offer our refugee friends a phone card, which will enable them to hear the voice of a loved one at Christmastime. For me and my family and friends, keeping in touch is so important around this time of year. These cards are funded by a number of regular donors and I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you!
Our final Day Centre of the year is set to be a festive, joyous occasion and there is always something in the atmosphere that builds hope where the world seems bleak. The JRS community comes together to offer support in potentially difficult situations. And this reminds me of what I am most grateful for this Christmas: the gifts that our refugee friends share with me, and with all of us at JRS, on a daily basis – their generosity of spirit, their friendship, and their kindness.
If you’ve already sent a gift to support our work with refugee friends, I thank you for your compassion and kindness. Your gifts go directly towards the practical support we offer and make a difference to the lives of our friends. For those that haven’t, it’s not too late to donate in time for our big Christmas meal order!
Help us cover the cost of the hot Christmas meal, the grant for bus travel, Christmas bonus and toiletries we will provide for our refugee friends next week, by donating to our Advent appeal.