I first became involved in The Graveney Canteen in July when my school asked all of the year 10 students to volunteer for a day at a community project.
I found about the Canteen on the Internet and signed up with a friend, Ollie, to help for the day. I wasn’t sure what to expect but right from the start I was made to feel welcome. That week was unusual as we only served a cold meal and started later than normal, however I immediately saw first hand the benefits the project brought to local people not only providing them with a lunch but also a social environment to meet and interact with others.
When later that month I needed to choose a project to volunteer with for my silver Duke of Edinburgh award it felt right to return to The Graveney Canteen.
Over the school summer holidays I became a regular volunteer and very much felt part of the team. Many of the volunteers are regulars giving their time every Friday to the project but one off and ad hoc helpers are always welcome.
The menu isn’t set each week; the volunteers see what has been donated then discuss and decide what the three-course meal could contain and allocate different tasks between each other. It’s a team effort. I was surprised at the quantity of food that was donated every week, which would otherwise go to waste, and the enormous variety of hot and cold dishes that can be made from a few simple ingredients.
The project had many regular customers known to the team by their first names but every week we welcomed and served new people from all walks of life. There was always a buzz of activity in and around the kitchen and the sound of chatter and laughter in the lunchroom.
I learned a huge amount from my time with The Graveney Canteen. I worked independently and in a team, developed my cooking skills, gained a real appreciation of how much of a need there is for projects like the Canteen and genuinely saw the many benefits it brings to individuals and the community. I am grateful to those who made me feel so welcome and feel inspired by the people that organise and run the Canteen every week. I returned to the project this October half term and I know I’ll be back to help again.
If you have some time on a Friday I’d highly recommend giving volunteering at the Canteen a try – you won’t regret it.