As published in the Independent on Tuesday 27th December 2016
A Muslim charity is a responding to a pressing need for help from London most vulnerable residents as it embarks on its annual charitable giving drive.
Muslim Aid was on hand to give out the party favours and Keep Warm Kits to elderly parishioners at St James the Less Church in Bethnal Green, east London as they sat down to their Christmas lunch last week.
Pat Farmer, one of the people who set up the annual Christmas dinner for the elderly around five years ago, said the event was so important to them as for many “its the only Christmas they are going to get”.
She said people from the charity took part in the Christmas lunch every year and were “very good” as they always came with Keep Warm Kits made up of blankets and hot water bottles for the elderly residents who took part.
Volunteers helped out with serving the Christmas meal with turkey and all the trimmings for the 30 or so elderly people at the event while they were serenaded by two Pearly Kings from Finsbury Park, before handing out the kits.
The event was part of a series held in the run-up to Christmas across London by the charity which has also included a food drive for the homeless.
This saw 10 tonnes of food, including rice, pasta, cereal, tinned goods and other foodstuffs, being donated at the East London Mosque in Whitechapel after Friday prayers earlier this month.
More than 90 per cent of the food, which was given to homeless charity Crisis, is expected to go to non-Muslims over the festive period.
The charity's UK Programme Officer, Joseph Coules, told The Independent the aim of the drive was because “people need help” they are not getting elsewhere.
He said: “People are going to do good and if [positive press] comes out of it then brilliant but we are doing it because people need help not because we want to get on the news.
“The idea is people in the community need help. We keep hearing in the news that there is no money for social care.
“Every week we hear that elderly people can’t afford to heat their homes. They can’t afford to be warm and eat at the same time.”
He said Muslims want to help because it is “their society” as well.
One of the volunteers, Fatema Mawji, said she felt it was so important to get involve because charity work made her feel “like a better person”.
The 18-year-old apprentice dental nurse said that although she and her family do not celebrate Christmas they still see it as an important time for doing good, giving gifts and being with those you love.
She said she wanted to help the elderly because it helped her feel closer to her own grandparents: “I think it quite important to be here because we have a good time as well. I mean our grandfathers and grandmothers might not be here right now so it makes us feel like they are.
“It makes me feel happy, it makes me feel close to them”
The teenager, from Ilford in east London, said it was only her second time volunteering with Muslim Aid but she would continue in the New Year because she “thinks it is a great cause”.
“Christmas means quite a lot to elderly people. In the winter they are quite vulnerable so we are here to help them out and make them feel that they are still special, that we are still there for them”, she added.
According to Age UK, just under 1m older people feel lonelier at Christmas and 85 per cent of those surveyed thought they more should be done to help them.
Meanwhile more than 120,000 children are likely to spend the holiday in temporary accommodation - a 10 per cent rise on last year.
Prime Minister Theresa May has promised £20m in funding to stop people sleeping rough on the streets of London by setting up “Homeless Prevention Trailblazers” but the rise in homelessness has been blamed on harsh austerity measures - particularly the “Bedroom Tax” - introduced by her predecessor David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne.