Breakfast In A Bag – A New Initiative For London’s Homeless
Breakfast In A Bag, a not-for-profit community initiative, has been launched by Enfield’s Michelle Clark to provide free, healthy breakfasts to London’s homeless. Funded by public donations with additional support from food manufacturers and supermarkets, the project was conceived by Michelle after she’d identified a huge gap in the services available to the homeless in the city.
“I’ve been working with and supporting homeless people since 2013 when I started out distributing socks to them that I was buying in multipacks at my local market.” Michelle said: “Later I started an outreach project called Off The Streets London and that still keeps me really busy alongside Breakfast In A Bag, I’m out most days trying to help the homeless in any way I can. I’ve helped several homeless people find permanent housing and I still keep in touch with most of them today. I consider them to be my friends. It dawned on me earlier this year that despite there being several soup kitchens feeding London’s homeless in the evenings, no one was providing breakfasts.”
According to figures released by the Combined Homelessness Information Network (CHAIN) over 7.500 people slept on London’s streets in 2015, a huge rise from 3.673 in 2009/2010. It seems inevitable that there will be a further increase this year. Sadiq Khan who has been the Mayor Of London since May attributed this rise in London’s homeless figures to a “toxic mix of government failures” when speaking about the problem earlier this year.
“I’m fed up waiting for our politicians to step in and reverse this trend.” Michelle explained: “I’ve seen the situation worsen over the last few years and while the MPs are busy arguing about what to do I’d rather roll up my sleeves and do something practical that actually helps. It’s a disgrace how so many people have been abandoned by society. Our homeless friends are some of the most vulnerable members of our communities yet they’re often just completely ignored. Jesse Jackson was right when he said you should never look down on someone unless you’re helping them up. A breakfast in a bag won’t turn round anyone’s life but it will give them a nourishing start to their day after another miserable night sleeping on our capital’s streets.”
The contents of each breakfast bag will always provide a healthy and nutritional breakfast and will typically include cereal or porridge, milk, fresh fruit, a cereal bar or similar, fruit juice and biscuits, together with disposable cutlery and a bowl.
There is a significant amount of goodwill and support for this initiative on social media and @breakfastinabag already have well over 2000 followers on Twitter who have got behind the “Sponsor A Bag for £3” campaign. Comedians Al Murray, Reginald D Hunter and David Baddiel, Liz Kershaw and Ian Danter from national radio, Birds Of A Feather actress Linda Robson, Labour MP Jess Phillips, X Factor finalist Janet Devlin and Nick Knowles who presents DIY SOS on the BBC are among those who have added their weight to the campaign by spreading the word to their own huge followings on Twitter.
“The support on Twitter for what we are doing has been phenomenal. People are going out of their way to help us make this a success.” said Michelle: “It’s overwhelming that so many famous people are interested in what we are doing but every single member of our Twitter army is part of the team and they’re all helping us to raise awareness. We’re gaining followers on Twitter at an incredible rate and that’s led to the donations really beginning to come in now. We rely heavily on donations, every pound buys a pot of porridge and some fruit for someone or a couple of energy bars. Quite simply the more donations we receive, however small, the more breakfasts I can hand over. People are realising that by donating just £3 to us they’re buying a homeless person a healthy breakfast, all for the same price as a coffee and for much less than a pint!”
Several food manufacturers and supermarkets have already supported Michelle and there are talks underway about some longer-term partnerships too.
“Weetabix, Pret, Greggs and Morrisons didn’t even hesitate about getting involved and now we’re talking with several other suppliers about becoming Product Partners. We’ve just had a wonderful donation from Pulsin’ in Gloucester who specialise in health-boosting energy foods. We really wanted their products for the health benefits and they’ve sent down enough protein bars for over 700 breakfast bags!”
Michelle’s vision was always to make the breakfasts as healthy as possible and Pulsin’ aren’t the only company in that sector to offer support.
“Earlier today we heard from PERK!ER, a fairly new company who make healthy snack bars and porridge. Despite being a start-up trying to get established they still wanted to donate some of their breakfast snacks which is a wonderful gesture that I really appreciate.”
Michelle continued: “Companies get a huge number of requests for help from charities but I think they’ve spotted something unique about what I’m trying to do with Breakfast In A Bag. I’ve even had three different pet food companies send dog food and treats because I like to look after the homeless dogs as well as their owners. We’d love to find a company that can help us with some plastic cutlery and bowls as they’re an ongoing expense that we’d rather be spending on food. We were really lucky that The Printed Bag Shop from Newcastle recently stepped in with a donation of 1000 paper carrier bags as we use so many of them. Finding more companies who want to support our initiative is my next mission as every delivery from a Product Partner means the financial donations we receive from the public go so much further and we can feed more of London’s homeless. I’m lucky that my friends at Big and Red Storage in Enfield have kindly given me a small storage unit to keep it all in although I’m beginning to worry I might have to ask them for a bigger one!”
Michelle delivers most of the bags direct to the homeless herself but she’s often assisted by a small team of volunteers who join her to host the popular Friday night Breakfast In A Bag “Brekkie Station” she’s set up in Central London.
“I have a great team around me, all volunteering to give up their free time to do good things for people who need our help. From those assisting with the breakfasts to the people who look after our Twitter feed or help behind the scenes while I’m outreaching, I can’t thank any of them enough. I’ve even had someone take time out from her regular clients to design our lovely new website breakfastinabag.co.uk for free. Go and take a look, it’s amazing and it’s got everything we need … you can even make a donation while you’re there!”