A blog by Rajeev Gupte - Spice Fusion's owner
You know, sometimes you can have dreams and ideas, and they will sit in your head almost forever, and then comes along a catalyst that almost forces you to get on with it.
This is exactly what happened. For more than a year now, I have been wanting to help homeless and vulnerable people with food – after all, if there’s one thing I have plenty of, its food! I even mentioned it to the Mayor of Medway when he held his annual Charity Dinner at Spice Fusion and he said, just let me know how I can help you.
The Mayor of Medway at his Charity Fundraising Dinner held at Spice Fusion, with music act “Swing Duble” providing the entertainment.
Anyway, it sat there until the end of March 2020, when I was talking to a chap called Mark Swinyard, complaining about how much the price of chicken had gone up during the approach to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Mark said he could get me chicken and a fraction of the price and he’d pay for it!
I said no way you’re paying for it. He insisted, so I said look, no way I’m going to use that chicken for commercial gain, but how about we use it to make some curries for the homeless, specifically, the Gillingham Street Angels.
The food bank outside Gillingham Street Angels charity shop on Skinner Street / Gillingham High Street
So he asked me what they do and how, I shared a brief notion of what I thought they did. Next day 20kg of chicken arrives along with 155 eggs! I said I’ve got loads of eggs, don’t need them. Give them to the charity he says. Ok!
Then we had more of a chat and wondered whether other people would donate to this forgotten cause. We posted some info on the Parkwood Community Facebook page along with the what and the why and the donations came flooding in. From home-made cakes to Easter eggs, from bread to tinned food.
The first 100 curries being cooked, ready to be distributed to the charities food bank and soup kitchen “pop-ups” across the Medway towns.
We agreed with Neil Charlick who runs the charity, to drop everything off on the next Wednesday. We were truly overwhelmed with how much food there was. When we unloaded the 120 curry and rice meals and two big car loads of donations, even Neil and his team were amazed at how much had been donated in a week.
I said to Mark I think we have started some that could be big here. We started using #parkwoodspirit on all our facebook posts. We shared what the community achieved in such a small space of time but more importantly we shared how much of a difference to lives these donations were making. Neil had told us that his normal 200 or so people coming every week to pick up food from the food bank and hot food from the soup kitchen had risen to some 400 or so and now, 4 weeks on this number has risen to 800 a week.
We’re in week four now and the donations from Parkwood just won’t stop. People have been baking their hearts out. Some are grateful for the distraction and purpose; others are clearing out their homes, and yet others are just putting an extra few items in their shopping so they can donate.
We were doing so well, I reached out to the Mayor of Medway and asked him to come see what was happening and take part in collecting donations, packing curries and dropping everything off at the charity. He gladly did, mostly as it was the right thing to do and because of his passion, but partly as he was going stir crazy himself!
Those community members that met him were stunned as they weren’t expecting him - just Mark on his weekly rounds. He came back to Spice Fusion and we got him packing curries and then we went to the charity and he learned first-hand what the charity were doing on the frontline. The Mayors response was expected but it also came from the heart.
Here we are now in the fifth week having donated some 500 curry meals, 850 Easter eggs, 600 home baked cupcakes, bag upon bag and box upon box of food, sack after sack of clothes and toiletries and household goods too. The numbers are staggering, the passion is amazing. And even as we speak more and more people are getting involved and wanting to help. Not just this charity but the NHS, paramadics and other key workers.
It’s truly highlighted the amazing spirit there is in the community.
And to that end we decided to open up a community award, we asked people to nominate someone they know going above and beyond to help the community. And the nominations came flooding in… 160 in all. From people helping their neighbours, to setting up bookstalls to raise money, from going to the chemist for someone to doing their shopping. We reviewed the nominations and awarded a Spice Fusion gift to six people who truly have made a difference to other people’s lives.
We had over 170 nominations by Parkwood residents for their neighbours, shop workers and fund-raising work during the lockdown period
Mark, himself has shown undying energy from the beginning. He’s unable to work and that can’t be easy, yet he has been running around, going shopping, energising people, collecting donations and reaching out to a number of supermarkets and food producers to donate to this very worthwhile cause. Mark, I salute you!
In a few weeks I guess people will slowly be going back to work and carrying on with their regular lives, but the lives of the homeless and vulnerable will stay much the same.
So, I’m hoping to speak to Mark and a few others to see what we can do to keep this #parkwoodspirit going even at a lower level, to continue to help those people who need our help the most.
May 2, 2020