Charity begins at home…but what if your home is the street?

Children as young as 5 join to distribute the goods on offer. Their positive energy truly shines at the soup kitchen.

For more than 11 years a group of volunteers have come together at the corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn, London, at 5:30pm every Sunday to distribute food and other essentials to those in need.

Children of Adam (COA) was set up by a Muslim lady and her friends during Ramadan when they wanted to have iftar with those in need. What started as a personal project evolved and grew into a charity which has served over 100,000 meals and distributed thousands more essential items including clothes, sleeping bags, shoes, even schoolbooks to the homeless and those in need in London.

I began volunteering a year after the first meals were served because I was looking for a way to give back and also for a project that would improve the image of Muslims in the UK, COA ticked both boxes. I’ve lived in London my whole life, but like many who have family in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, charity was almost always sent abroad. This to me wasn’t the only way, so I wanted to make a change.

(يَسْـَٔلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ ۖ قُلْ مَآ أَنفَقْتُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍۢ فَلِلْوَٰلِدَيْنِ وَٱلْأَقْرَبِينَ وَٱلْيَتَـٰمَىٰ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينِ وَٱبْنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ ۗ وَمَا تَفْعَلُوا۟ مِنْ خَيْرٍۢ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ بِهِۦ عَلِيمٌۭ )
They ask you ˹O Prophet in˺ what ˹way˺ they should donate. Say, “Whatever donations you give are for parents, relatives, orphans, the poor, and ˹needy˺ travellers. Whatever good you do is certainly well known to Allah.” (2:215)

Though I’ve always understood that family is a priority when giving, I also believe that my countrymen and women come next, in that they may not be my blood relations but we are all family, after all we ARE ALL children of Prophet Adam (as). COA has allowed me to support a small number of them in their time of need.

( وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَى حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا؛ إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنْكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا؛ إِنَّا نَخَافُ مِنْ رَبِّنَا يَوْمًا عَبُوسًا قَمْطَرِيرًا)
“and give food—despite their desire for it—to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, saying to themselves, “We feed you only for the sake of Allah, seeking neither reward nor thanks from you. We fear from our Lord a horribly distressful Day.” (76:8-10)

Islam is clear about Sadaqa and how important even a smile is, making people feel worthwhile, not isolated or alone. As austerity hits and the cost of living crisis bites, we are all too aware of how cautious we have to be with our income and how for so many, living pay cheque to pay cheque, the reality is hitting home that they are no longer able to cope without additional support.

This simple idea of Sadaqa is one that COA has built on, allowing volunteers to give back in many ways. Children as young as 5 join to distribute the goods on offer. Their positive energy truly shines at the soup kitchen. Though for some it is intimidating at first, the response from the guests is always encouraging and helps them feel at ease.

In fact, children are our secret weapon when we have a hard to ‘sell’ item!!! Give it to a child to distribute and few guests will turn it down! Why? Because many of our guests are parents, fathers who have been separated from their children for a number of reasons. Each volunteer who supports the drive, knowingly or unknowingly, brings with them a special energy and gift. Child volunteers allow our guests to be parents in a sense, to care for people, support and nurture them. Saying yes to whatever is on offer is part of that!

It is normally parents who are worried about being outside with a hundred random strangers and children who take to the setting without trouble.

Volunteering also opens kids’ eyes to the fact that the homeless people they see on the street are people, not just strangers to be scared of or avoid. They are people who have their own stories and struggles, jokes and quirks and they make up part of society the same way the rest of us do. I recall my nieces and nephews coming back gobsmacked because one of the guests had talked to them about the situation in Palestine and how much it pained him. How, they asked, did he know about it? And, considering his own struggle, why did it affect him?

But this is the beauty of humanity, no matter what we are going through there is space in our hearts for those who are suffering or struggling in a different way.

Over the years, COA – not to be confused with COA Peterborough who have supported our distribution – has seen guests from all walks of life: migrants who have outstayed their visas and need support because they can’t get employment, former members of the military, victims of drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence, people who struggle with their mental health, and retired members of society who are unable to make ends meet on the state pension.

Each week they arrive on site and travel through the queue to collect a halal hot meal (we were the first outdoor soup kitchen to provide halal meat), sandwich, fruit, dessert, drink and soup. Enough food to see them through a couple of days and sometimes more.

Our guests – yes guests – come to us to be served the way you and I may choose a restaurant to eat at. They could go elsewhere but they choose us for our service, the quality of goods on offer and the fact that for over 11 years we haven’t let them down. Rain, snow or shine we have stood at the same corner and provided the best service we can to them.

If they have specific requests, we try to meet them. These range from sleeping bags and shoes, to copies of the Quran and schoolbooks so they can continue their studies and improve their situation. We promise them no more than the food we offer but do our best to provide the rest. We have watched as our guests have moved on to become Amazon delivery drivers, work in restaurants, move back home, enroll in college courses and in a number of cases return to us to volunteer and donate so our service can continue.

Nothing makes us happier than seeing an old familiar face return to say hi.

رجلا سأل رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: أي الإسلام خير؟ قال: «تُطْعِمُ الطَّعَامَ وَتَقْرَأُ السَّلَامَ عَلَى مَنْ عَرَفْتَ وَمَنْ لَمْ تَعْرِفْ» (متفق عليه).
A man asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): ‘What Islamic traits are the best?’ The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Feed the people and greet those whom you know and those whom you do not know.”

If you’re in town on a Sunday, pop by, say Hi and bring your kids. Our guests would love to meet you and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the feeling you get putting a smile on people’s faces while doing something that is pleasing to Allah.

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