Take One Leave One: How to help homeless in London this Christmas

Take One Leave One, a project offering warm clothes, hot drinks, food and friendship to London’s homeless community, has launched its festive appeal for donations.

A homelessness charity described as “like a family” has launched its Christmas effort to help those without a roof over their heads.

Take One Leave One, a project offering warm clothes, hot drinks, food and friendship to the capital’s homeless community, launched its festive appeal for donations at Vauxhall Bus Station on Friday.

Founded in the UK by journalist Stefen Simanowitz, who calls the concept “an idea not an organisation”, the scheme sees small groups of volunteers manning a clothes rail and free food stall in their local area at a set time each week, handing out everything from layers to colouring books to their guests.

Christmas cake at the Take One Leave One stall. Photo: LondonWorld

One such guest is 35-year-old Nicola, who has been homeless for more than 17 years.

After running away from home, she currently lives in a tent in the Vauxhall area, but says she hopes to get back on her feet and one day run a care home.

She visits the Take One Leave One stall at the bus station every Friday, and tells LondonWorld: “We’re like a family.

“They always give me clothes. I come here to get changed and they always give me stuff, like colouring books and pens because I like colouring.

“They give me coffee and always have Maryland cookies for me, which are my favourite.”

Volunteer Hayley Ereola, 43, who founded the Vauxhall rail alongside colleague Bernice Kudjo, 48, said: “Anyone who is in need can come and take anything from the table. We’re just here chatting to people and seeing how they are.

Free clothes for the homeless at Vauxhall Take One Leave One. Photo: LondonWorld

“We see many new faces every week, but there are around 25 regulars who pop by for clothes and snacks but mainly for a cuppa and a chat.

“Many people can go a whole week without talking to anyone and that’s where our team can step in. It is an honour to be there each week and support those in need.”

Hayley, who lives in Peckham and works as a project coordinator at a charity in Vauxhall, continued: “A lot has changed for me in terms of how you see people, and how they live their lives and what they need.

“To just hear people’s stories and how small things can change people’s lives has had a massive impact on me.”

While playworker Bernice, from Camberwell, said: “We started in January this year during the lockdown and it’s been going on ever since, every Friday from 12noon to 3pm.

“You see people and you don’t really know their story and you judge them. Talking to them makes you realise that.”

Founder of Take One Leave One Stefan Simanowitz (right). Photo: LondonWorld

And Comfort Jibuike, a psychiatric nurse who volunteers with the Thornton Heath Take One Leave One with her husband, added: “In our area, it is predominantly people on low incomes, people on drugs and those with addictions, and of course the homeless, who we help.

“It has really opened my eyes to the needs that are there.”

She continued: “When this Vauxhall one started, I thought this is something I could do in Thornton Heath.

“The response and the donations have been amazing. People have been so generous. We have families coming and sharing food and volunteering when they can.”

Stefan added: “It’s a really simple idea. You put up a rail and if you need something you can take one.

“In 2018 it was that very cold winter, the Beast from the East. I saw the idea in America and thought it’s so simple, it could be done anywhere.

“To find your local rail or find people who might help set one up, use the hashtag #TOLO and the name of your town or city, e.g. #TOLONewcastle, on Twitter and on Instagram. Why not set one up where you are?”

Next year, the project, which receives donations of food from online grocery app Getir, hopes to partner with supermarkets including Tesco.

For more information, to donate, or volunteer, visit Take One Leave One.org