19 December 2014

Thousands of Scots buy Christmas dinners for the homeless

By Laura Smith

An appeal to buy Christmas dinner for homeless people in Scotland has raised enough money to feed them for an entire year.

Social Bite, an independent chain of sandwich shops, launched a £5 deal through itison.com on Tuesday, 16 December which allows people to buy Christmas dinner for homeless people in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in return for a free hot drink in January.

The social enterprise, which also employs formerly homeless people, originally aimed to serve 400 dinners at one of its Glasgow shops on 24 December and another 400 meals in Edinburgh on Christmas Day.

But their festive campaign has been overwhelmed with support and, to date, over 26,000 donations have been made - raising close to £130,000.

Co-founder Josh Littlejohn, 29, said the whole team are stunned by the response their Christmas dinner drive has received. He adds that they smashed their original target of 800 meals within two hours of the deal going live.

“It’s amazing; this incredible Christmas spirit has blown us all away," said Josh.

"We give away free food to the homeless throughout the year and employ people from homeless backgrounds, so we're quite ingrained in that community. We quickly realised there was going to be a fair number of people without anywhere to go on Christmas Day."

The surplus donations will be funnelled into Social Bite's suspended meal scheme, which allows customers to buy a hot meal and drink for homeless people to collect from their local shop, all year round.

With over 26,200 meals now pre-paid for by the public, Social Bite can now comfortably run their suspended meal scheme throughout 2015.

Good will and good food for good causes

Since launching in Edinburgh two years ago, the socially conscious sandwich and coffee chain has established four shops across the Scottish capital and in Glasgow.

In the process, it quickly captured both the appetites and hearts of locals. So much so that the recent outpouring of goodwill and support has extended far beyond Christmas dinners.

“So many people have got in touch asking if they can volunteer on Christmas Day," added Josh.

"Loads of people have said they're not going to buy Christmas cards this year or get a Christmas tree, and will donate the money to this instead."

Social Bite customers and supporters have also offered to drop in Christmas presents for the homeless people visiting the shops over the festive period, and have been sending cash donations in Christmas cards.

Social Bite also donates 100 per cent of its profits to charity and much of its workforce - currently 14 people - has experienced homelessness.

“For me that's the coolest thing about our suspended food and coffee scheme," added Josh.

"We employ about 14 people from homeless backgrounds and we met a fair few of them because they came in for free food, so the free food is really the first step on that journey.

"We get to know them and further down the line we try to offer some of them a part time job, and later full time job. We're trying to break the cycle of homelessness rather than just give out free meals."

Brian Rogers, who is formerly homeless and works in one of Social Bite's Glasgow shops, will help to serve around 400 dinners on Christmas Eve.

"This is a very special opportunity for the homeless in Scotland," he said.

"This could be the only meal they get so it's amazing that Social Bite has put their hands out to help. This will make the homeless feel welcome, fed and more hopeful for the future."

Brian started working as a kitchen porter at Social Bite earlier this year, ending a four-year streak of unemployment, alcohol addiction, prison time and periods of homelessness.

"It's an amazing opportunity. I never thought I’d get a job and have money," he added.

"I go to AA meetings every week now and am looking forward to building a new life for myself, thanks to Social Bite.

"The suspended meal scheme is brilliant. I wish there'd been something like this when I was homeless."