This month we sat down with the Anna who is a Volunteer and Project Coordination Manager at Serve the City in Brussels. We talked about how the charity mobilises volunteers in Belgium who are willing to make a difference in their city by helping people most in need and how everyone can get involved!
1. Tell us a bit about Serve the City?
Serve the City is a non-profit organisation that mobilises, enables, and manages volunteers in Belgium who are willing to do good and make a difference in their city by helping people most in need. With our team of volunteers, we serve the homeless, asylum seekers, refugees, theelderly, the disabled, children in need, and victims of abuse. We run our own projects, but we also support other local and international non-profits who are in need of volunteer power to help run their projects. Our projects can be split into four categories. We have social projects where the goal is all about socialising with each other. For example, we go into centres for asylum seekers and play with thekids. The second category is educational projects. For instance, we do lots of different homeworkclubs with children in need and also English and French classes. We also have more practical projects. These projects are all about helping behind the scenes to ensure the projects can run smoothly. For example, we have a brand new electric van that is used to deliver food to ourdifferent projects. We are always looking for drivers! The last category is food outreach. Unfortunately, there are thousands of people dealing with food insecurity in Brussels alone. Our food outreach projects are all about addressing this with a smile. Weekly, we prepare and distribute more than 3500 hot meals as well as other distributions, such as breakfasts for ourfriends on the streets. With these four categories, everyone can find a project suited to them! To give an idea of the scale of our activities, in 2022 we distributed more than 114,000 hot meals and more than 91,000 lunch bags, ran 38 weekly projects and had 1443 volunteers complete over 22,000 volunteering hours. None of this would have been possible without our amazing volunteers who show so much compassion on a daily basis.
2. What are some of the challenges you've faced in running this program?
At times it can be hard to find volunteers for certain projects. Often we are lacking drivers for our Monday and Wednesday driving shifts. These are essential for the functioning of our projects. They deliver the more than 500 meals needed for lunch on the same day, so there are many people relying on this shift happening! As you can imagine, having so many projects comes at a financial cost. We rely on the support of individuals and organisations who ensure that we can continue to do the work we do. Without the generosity of people, we would not be able to keep running all of our projects and helping those in our city who need it most.
4. Where have you seen a direct impact on the community?
Personally, I have seen a huge change in the children who attend the homework club we do in the centres for asylum seekers. The kids who live in the centre come from all over the world. They arrive in Belgium and immediately go to school, often without the languages and without having experienced a Belgian educational system. As you can imagine, this is really hard on the kids. Through weekly support and building relationships, we have seen them learn languages within weeks and start to excel at school. Here is what one of the 13 year-olds who comes every week has to say: “I like when you come to help us. I don’t like doing homework alone. When you’re here you make us feel like we can do it. When I’m on my own I don’t believe I can. My mum can’t really help me and doing homework on my own is hard. I feel less scared when I do it with you. You help me concentrate. It’s not boring, you make it fun. It is different than at school. Here I can be me. I feel more at home here. You’re my friends.” On the other side, we have seen that volunteering also really impacts the volunteers themselves. It truly is a force for change. We have seen complete transformation within people. It’s so much more than simply giving someone a sandwich. Alison, one of our very committed Project Leaders has this to say about the impact of volunteering: “In October 2020 I started volunteering at the Lunch 4 All project up to 4 times a week; it was during a lockdown and I found it gave me purpose and structure to an otherwise very challenging time. In June 2021 I was asked to help lead the project twice a week. I had many doubts about my capabilities to take on this responsibility as 300 - 400 people come to the Red Cross centre every lunchtime. Happily, I tried and I have now been a project leader for one year. I am 62 years old and volunteering with STC has become very important to me at this stage of my life. My confidence has grown, I feel useful and it’s very satisfying to be part of this team. I give my time but I receive so much more.”
5. What are your goals/hopes for the future of this program?
Currently, Serve the City Belgium is active in Brussels, Leuven and Wavre. In the coming years we would love to have a Serve the City volunteering community in more cities across Belgium. We would also love to expand our projects and serve as many people as we can!
6. Is there a story you have that represents Serve the City?
We have amazing volunteers, so it's hard to pick just one! As we like to say, many people doing small things together can make a big difference. I think a standout is someone who is currently helping us a lot. He arrived in Belgium in September 2022 and was coming to one of our food distributions to receive lunch every day. After a couple of weeks he saw an opportunity to get involved himself and downloaded our app. He started volunteering at the very project he relied on. Today he is still helping out at many different projects and comes to the office everyday to support us here as well. He is still waiting in the asylum seeking process, but in the meantime heis making a massive difference to people in the same shoes as him.
7. Where can we find you/How can we get involved?
Getting involved is super easy! We have an app called ServeNow. On this app you can see all our different projects and volunteering opportunities. With just a few clicks you can register for shifts. We do not expect any kind of commitment. If you can come once a week, great! If you can come once every month, also great! We are very flexible and love to see people getting involved, no matter how frequently. We hope to see you at our projects soon!