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2 May 2020

Sanjay’s story

Sanjay Mall Sanjay Mall
Southampton Above Bar Street from above

In the last six weeks the Big Breakfast team have provided 194 food parcels for families, refugees and others in need in our city and 275 lunch packs for homeless people who have been temporarily housed during the lockdown.

From this week on, a team (led by Sanjay Mall) will be providing between 250-400 lunches per week for these people, working in partnership with Love Southampton, the Council and Fairshare. And this is just one part of what Christians in Southampton are doing to help our community through this crisis.

We’ve asked Sanjay Mall to share some of the story of how God has worked in his life, that lies behind the incredible contribution he is making now.

Sanjay’s story

Sanjay MallI grew up with a Hindu background and never really had any belief and, at 18, I chose to be an atheist. As time went on and I achieved the goals I had set myself, I realised that my goals kept increasing and I started to ask questions like, “What is the purpose of life, and why are we here?”

I had always wondered why people were homeless and had addictions and begged on the streets. Why didn’t they get out there like the rest of us and work and be self-sufficient? I clearly had no understanding and I hadn’t even tried to chat to these guys who were on the outskirts of society. I just labelled them; I had no time for them and they were invisible to me. As long as my family and friends were OK and I worked hard, nothing else mattered.

However, I’ve been on an amazing journey for the last 12 years. This has changed my values, the things I want to do with my life and what I believe about the most important things in life. My story is in this video on YouTube.

The journey began when I got to know some friends who were Christians and part of a church. One of my new friends from church pointed out that I always talked about wanting to help homeless people but that, instead of just talking about it, I should go and do something and learn about it. So I did, initially spending about two years helping at Riverside Church in Northam, serving breakfasts on one Saturday every month.

After that, my friend said to me, “Why don’t we set up a similar breakfast at Above Bar Church, now that you have the expertise?”  I was reluctant and daunted by the idea as none of the other three people who ended up setting it up with me had ever worked in this area.

However, we decided to go for it, and that is how the Big Breakfast began. Numbers were small to begin with - starting at about six people - but it grew pretty quickly and before long we had 70 to 100 coming; we had reached maximum capacity for the space we had.

Big Breakfast 2

The breakfast now runs 50 weeks a year and is set up at 9am and ends at 11am and has been running for about 10 years. Our friends who live on the streets and in various local hostels come in and are served by about 20 faithful volunteers - some of whom are Christians and some who are not really involved in the church. Without these amazing volunteers none of this could be achieved.

The guests come into a lovely warm building where they help themselves to as much cereal as they like, have many cups of coffee or tea, and then are served a full English breakfast! It’s an amazing thing to see as people eat, feel part of community and then listen to a short talk if they want to stay. The volunteers love what they do and make the guests feel welcomed and loved.

We have teamed up with Fairshare and every Wednesday we receive various amounts of food (for a small weekly sum!) which we make into food parcels to give to our friends who come to the Breakfast. Not only do they see love in action but they get a good breakfast and some food to take away, as most don’t have lots to live on.

What has struck me over the years is that these guys, who I used to have no time for, are now the guys I have all the time in the world for. They are the same as me. Their circumstances and life choices are something I never understood before, but by talking to them and spending time with them I have learnt so much from them that they have become my friends and I really love them.

Getting to know them, working alongside people in the church, starting to see others and myself so differently has had a profound impact on me, leading me to put my faith in Jesus. The best thing I’ve learned (and also the hardest thing to really accept) is that there is nothing I can do to earn his forgiveness, acceptance and love, but that he offers me those things freely! But the more I’ve understood that, the more I’ve wanted to do to serve him and serve other people.

My friend then decided that we should do a little more and develop some kind of community hub to serve our guests in a bigger way. So we started something called Big Breakfast Central which is in its early stages, but is working and will grow. So every Thursday, straight after the breakfast, guests can go downstairs to a bigger room where they can have their hair cut and/or have their feet treated by a team who come in specially to do that. They can also get help with forms that need to be filled by trained people who know about benefits. Or, if they just want to relax, they can play table tennis and other games, chill out in quiet corners, listen to people playing musical instruments, or just have a coffee. More and more people are coming to help and it’s growing. Recently we teamed up with Dentaid who offered free dental treatment to our guests, who have no other way of getting this type of treatment. You can see more on this Facebook post.

I have recently teamed up with Linda Bridges from the Hazel Project and I now work on the streets with her once a week. We serve hot chocolate and biscuits, chat to our homeless friends and try to encourage them to have rehab if that’s what they need. We help them fill in forms and support them in making that big step to change their lives. It’s so tough for them but we try and encourage them as much as we can and quite often pray with them if they want it.

Southampton Street Pastors - sweeping

About a year ago I became a Street Pastor, so I go out with the team once each month on a weekend between 10pm and 5am. I get to meet some of my homeless friends and chat to them as I now know many of them in our city. We also make sure vulnerable people are safe and look after the younger students who have drunk a bit too much or have been separated from their friends.

The combination of working in church and on the streets with the Hazel Project and Street Pastors is giving me invaluable experience and a real sense of being involved in helping change peoples lives for the better. The simple message is love. We love everyone. We are all the same.

Now, with the virus, many people within churches are working together and also many people in the community are trying to help with food banks, food parcels, families in crisis, refugees, single parents and the homeless. This can all be found on the Love Southampton website – www.lovesouthampton.org.uk – through which people can volunteer to help or ask for help for themselves or for others.

Through Love Southampton, churches are working together with the council in lots of significant ways. So far, about 45 of the street homeless guys have been given a place to stay and are now being fed by teams doing breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

The Coronavirus outbreak has been really tough for everyone, but the amazing thing is that, through it, people have become more aware and there is a real community spirit in our city, which is coming from many others, including the churches.

What is really exciting for me is that I have learnt so much from the guys on the streets and continue to learn all the time. It feels an honor to team up with people and help them with advice within the community and to use our experiences in this field.

I would love to be able to influence big changes within our city by reaching the right people and I think these events over the past few weeks have opened my eyes to realise that we can all work together in the community and, by combining our skills, we can make a real difference.

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