40 meals in just one hour at Wisbech charity 50 Backpacks officially launches its Grub Hub at Bygones Café
A newly launched project to help the homeless in Wisbech saw more than 40 hot meals served in just one hour.
The Grub Hub set-up by those behind the 50 Backpacks initiative launched last year, officially opened its doors on Tuesday night at Bygones Café in the town.
Mayor Peter Human and his new wife Janet were there to see the scheme for themselves.
Café owners Andy Maul and Vikki Holmes had planned to hand over their premises to Spencer Neilly, Claire Surguy, Sarah Thomas and their band of helpers, but found demand was so high they stayed to help for the full two hours.
The Grub Hub opened at 4.30pm and by 4.35pm it was inundated with homeless people keen to get out of the freezing weather conditions and tuck into a free meal.
While the cooks, including Vikki, dished up helpings of chilli con carne and rice, Spencer, Sarah and others were busy handing out essential supplies, including sleeping bags and mats, clothing and equipment such as torches.
Meanwhile demand to get into the café saw a queue forming outside. In fact within the first hour the volunteers had dished up more than 40 meals, and supplies of the chilli were running low prompting the cooking of chips and cheese toasties.
Andy, who was busy handing out hot drinks and filling hot water bottles, which were being handed out during the evening, said: “We had planned to just set things up and show Spencer and the others where things were and leave them to it, but that hasn’t happened.
“Last week when we had the trial run we had just 18 people come along, but obviously word has spread and it has been absolutely manic. We have ended up serving over 50 meals and handed out countless cups of tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
“We did set up a soup kitchen a few years ago in 2014 but there was no real response and we ended up taking the food round the shelters instead. Now we have had around 50 people turn up to be fed - it just shows you how the homeless problem has grown in the last four years.”
Demand for warm clothing, sleeping bags and other bedding was so high that supplies ran out and Spencer said: “We have been busier than we expected to be with everyone turning up more or less at the same time.
“We have been able to hand out essentials and we have been asking what things people need so we can get them for them ready for next week.
“We desperately need camping equipment, sleeping bags, tents and stoves, but we also want wind up torches as everyone keeps asking for batteries and they don’t last long. A wind up torch would be a better option for people.
“We also need underwear - not socks at the moment we have plenty of those - but thermals, pants and knickers, we are especially in need of men’s underwear and we really need it to be new.”
Sarah Thomas, who originally launched the backpack initiative in 2016, said: “We were told there were 50homeless people in Wisbech, which is why we had the 50 Backpacks appeal before Christmas and things just seem to have exploded from there. We know there is a real need for this and it is great that Andy and Vikki have let us use their premises.”
James Banks of Banks Barbers also popped in on Tuesday to offer his service. He was there to find out what might be needed and was set to return last night (29) to provide haircuts for those who wanted one.
He said: “I got into hairdressing because I liked the way you feel when you’ve had a haircut. It is a great feeling and so I’m happy to come along and offer haircuts here to give people a freshen up. I hope to be here about once a month.”
There will also be someone offering foot care too as one of the hazards of living outdoors is problems with feet including trench foot from having constantly wet feet.
Donations of items can be taken to the Acme Taxis office in Blackfriars Street.
Tuesday night also saw Michelle Robinson of Wisbech Ladies Circle handover a cheque for £300 to help fund the cost of providing the meals.
It is the second time the Ladies Circle has offered support to 50 Backpacks as just before Christmas they handed over essentials to help fill the bags, which were being distributed to the homeless.
Michelle said: "50 Backpacks have said they are unsure how they can fund the Grub Hub going forward, so we thought we would like to support the project through to the summer and the warmer weather - which takes a bit of pressure off the backpacks team.
"Tonight proves there is a big need for it. It was heart-warming everyone was helping each other and there was a real community feel."
Donations to help pay for food can be made at Bygones Cafe.