How a homeless initiative that began in a van is now reaching thousands of vulnerable people in South Tyneside. SHARON BARNARD talks to its founder
Amelia Luffrum was at a Bible study when she heard a message that was to take her in a new direction.
“God spoke to me and asked me to work with the homeless and set up a soup kitchen,” says the mother of twin daughters from South Tyneside.
Acting on what she had been told, Amelia began searching the streets for homeless people and providing them with hot drinks and food. Then she and a friend paid a visit to a local soup kitchen in Newcastle to ask for advice on setting up something similar in their locality.
“We came away with the offer of support and provision for a six-month trial period,” she explains. “Two men came to South Shields every week in a van with food and hot drinks to help us start up. A small group of volunteers helped.
“After six months we were allowed to use the church social hall, then gradually started working from five churches on different days of the week.”
Fifteen years on from those small beginnings, the ministry has grown into a charitable initiative called Hospitality and Hope. It now operates from a building on South Tyneside which houses a soup kitchen and food bank.
“It’s an old day care centre that the local council have leased us on a peppercorn rent for 25 years”, says Amelia, who received a British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours.
“Gradually over the years by word of mouth we now have 135 clients registered for our soup kitchens and clothing bank facility.
“Through the South Tyneside food bank over the last year we have fed 2,090 people, providing 2,532 bags of food.”
And there are more projects in the pipeline for Hospitality and Hope.
“We had felt for ages that the charity was good at providing practical support in the way of food, clothing, sleeping bags and a listening ear, but we wanted to do so much more,” Amelia explains.
“It was Easter 2014 and I was driving past an old pet shop and God clearly spoke to me and said that the building was for us. We had £5,000 in the bank and the building was for sale for £140,000. It was a huge step of faith.
“A local charity purchased the pet shop building for us and leased it to us for 12 years. Builders are currently completing the two upper floors into supported living accommodation for five homeless and vulnerable males aged 25 and over.
“Since then another charity has come forward to say they will give us long-term funding if we owned the building ourselves and put £50,000 towards the purchase.”
Hospitality and Hope negotiated a purchase price of £150,000 and at the time of going to press had nearly reached their target.
A community cafe is the second stage of the project which Amelia hopes will be open this autumn.
Looking back, Amelia says God has always answered their prayers and never let them down.
“The Lord has provided for [our] every need. My faith has grown from a mustard seed into a water melon.”
Amelia also pays tribute to the many people who have helped her along the way. “I could not have done the work without a group of faithful friends who have been by my side giving practical and prayer support”.
She believes that Hospitality and Hope is providing much-needed help to vulnerable people in what is one of the most deprived boroughs in the country.
“We feed, clothe, give sleeping bags and a listening ear to people who might otherwise die.
“Over the years many of our clients (guests) have become friends. We have seen clients and volunteers saved.
“We have seen miracles of healing. We have witnessed God answering prayers and in turn have been able to share this with others.
“We also have a group of more than 60 volunteers, some Christian and some not, and it is a witness to them too.”
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