South London charity Southern Women’s Aid Network (SWAN) provided 100 hot meals from its weekly soup kitchen outside Thornton Heath mosque on Monday evening.
Founder Saiqa Ali, 51, who started SWAN as a community group eight years ago, oversees the kitchen alongside foodbanks in Croydon and Streatham, which have collectively fed thousands since the start of lockdown.
She said: “It’s very spiritually fulfilling as it’s always good to do something for the community.
“The community know that we are consistently there and it purely comes from a place of wanting to help people.
“We’re very lucky to have volunteers that turn up rain or shine every Monday evening to help out.”
Having been granted charity status in March, SWAN’s help was immediately needed in the community due to the heavy impact of Covid-19.
Unable to feed people in mosques during Ramadan due to lockdown, the charity started an initiative which delivered 100 hot meals every day from each of its soup kitchens in Croydon and Thornton Heath.
SWAN served around 6,000 meals over the course of a month despite its staff being unpaid volunteers, and its huge success encouraged the running of the Thornton Heath kitchen on a weekly basis thereafter.
Ali said: “Covid-19 has definitely had an impact. The number of beneficiaries needing support has increased dramatically, particularly the people self-isolating and those who have been made redundant.
“We are all volunteers and any donations are sent straight back into the community.”
Alongside the soup kitchen, the charity’s Streatham food bank runs every Tuesday morning, covering around six hundred families on its monthly rota.
This includes refugees, disabled people, the elderly and low income families who receive food parcels containing hot food, water, fruit, tinned items and pastries.
SWAN funds the hot meals whilst other items are donated by the community, though a rise in the number of beneficiaries has resulted in assistance being required from Dons Local Action Group.
Ali said: “There’s a limit on how much food we can buy from supermarkets so we contacted the Dons Local Action Group to help us with food supplies.
“They’ve been doing that for six weeks and they’re just brilliant. We tell them what we’re short on and somebody delivers the stuff for us.
“They’ve been absolutely incredible in that and they do a fantastic job in helping food banks.
“It’s grassroots organisations that are doing really good work and they’re the ones really helping people.”
Details on how to apply for food packages or donating money and food are on SWAN’s website.