Every Saturday morning, a team of approximately 12 volunteers guided by Ivan Vodopivec and Marie Phuong-Maguet welcomes an average of 130 guests at the sandwich service.
The first volunteers arrive at 10.30 to prepare the sandwiches and set up the room, this is an opportunity for all to chat and for the newcomers to be welcome by the regular volunteers. Around noon, everything is ready, it is time for the traditional briefing with Ivan and Marie who give us the latest news and distribute the roles of each volunteer. The whole preparation is taking place in an atmosphere of joy and good humor, to the sound of catch ups and jokes. At 12.30 we open the doors to welcome our guests, all vulnerable people, some are homeless or pensioners with limited resources and others are in temporary housing with not jobs. On the door, they are welcome by the smiles of Ivan and Jean-Marie, they then go to the various stations where they can collect sandwiches, soups, hot drinks, cakes and fruit. Some just take the food and go, others stay as long as they wish to.
Lenn is homeless and comes regularly to the service : « We are made feel special here… it’s the only place I go to where people bend over backwards to get me what I want the way I want it. I don’t know how you choose your people, but this is something you do well! I don’t come here just for the food, but mostly for the social and mental stimulation. It is also an opportunity to meet new people, and also people who are different to the ones I meet in the street. I make sure I introduce myself to each new volunteer…” And personally, I’ll always remember the smile and kindness of Lenn when I first volunteered at the service and felt quite shy myself.
Cesar, a volunteer who joined us recently : « I was surprised to witness the variety of people who come here, you can’t avoid putting yourself in their shoes. As volunteers we are happy to offer a space of comfort, some warmth and to listen to them. Coming here made me open my heart more, now I find it easier to have contacts with homeless people I meet in the street.”
Jean-Marie, a loyal volunteer also says: “Coming here allows my compassion to grow: here I meet people who have had difficulties in their life but have not received the necessary help, it made me closer to them. It is also touching to see they are happy to meet again here, their friendship. It’s a sociable and friendly spot which is created here, it feels useful”
For Su, one of the long-standing volunteers : « Many people come here because they get a sense of community, but also as it is a space where they are fully welcome and not judged ».
“What strikes me, says Come, a regular volunteer, it’s to see the smile of people who thank you warmly for very simple things like a coffee, they are as happy to see us as we are to see them. We ask for mutual news.”
The nice atmosphere and the smooth running of the service are for a big part due to the remarkable work of Marie and Ivan who, over time, have introduced rules accepted by all and which make the service feel secure and familiar.
Patricia is a pensioner with rather limited resources, she comes from Essex to see us every week, and this for over two years: “Here I feel welcome, all the volunteers are smiling and joyful, it is calm too: if there is a small incident between guests, it’s dealt with discreetly”. Regarding this aspect, we owe a lot to Marie, a woman full of energy who constantly moves around the various stations to make sure that all is ok, she deals with every unpredictable situations happening during the service and ensures to defuse conversations when they go slightly awry… She naturally commands respect and trust from both volunteers and guests. Celine comments “Marie has people’s good close to her heart, and it guides her in everything she does for the service. It’s an extraordinary objective and she rallies all the team to her cause”.
For Marie, this role is now fully part of her life: “being here at the service, it is like a vocation I have discovered. I like the relationships created over time with both the guests and volunteers, it is like a family for me here. We all have different skills which are complementary. The dedication of the volunteers really impresses me, especially the young ones: when I was their age, never would have I thought to use my Saturday in this way!”
And as to Ivan, who belongs to the Marist Community of Notre Dame de France, he has a real gift to make people feel good, it is a pleasure for all to see him, as he is always so welcoming. Calm, witty with ease: he has a sense of humour who makes us all happy and the atmosphere relaxed. For Ivan: “The sandwich service is truly faith in action. We are all walking on the same road, and it is a way of walking with people. It is a manner to say to them that everyone is worthwhile. Our guests have in turn taught me a real lesson in life: being grateful who the little things, in spite of a life which is a lot harder than mine, it is humbling and puts things back into their place.”
Ivan takes care of the induction of volunteers and has included an annual training with Marc Brennan of Housing Justice. This training gives volunteers an opportunity to have a better knowledge of the people they serve, as well as behaviours to adopt in order to offer the best service possible. Marc has this beautiful saying which touched us all:
“We are not here to fix things but to create the possibility that things could be fixed.”