I arrived at the ElderLink Centre in Acocks Green on a Thursday morning at 9.30am in time for the prayer meeting that always starts a lunch club day. There were nine of us altogether: ElderLink staff Rachel (Manager), Sue (Visiting Support), Linda (Lunch Club Co-ordinator) and Stan (Chef); and volunteers David, Dionne, Zaynab and Philip the minibus driver. This was Zaynab’s first time at ElderLink – she had come to see what goes on and whether she would like to be part of the team. David has volunteered at the Mission for over 20 years. It was the day after the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge, so we prayed for those who were injured or had lost loved ones, for the elderly clients coming to the lunch club that day and for those who were housebound and couldn’t come – one in hospital, a couple suffering from depression and dementia, a lady whose heating was broken and was still waiting for somebody to come and fix it.
By 10am Stan and the team were in the kitchen preparing lunch, Sue and Rachel were out visiting and I joined David and Philip on the minibus to pick up the first group of clients. Every lunch club morning Philip drives about 25 miles collecting clients around east Birmingham, between Stechford and Tyseley. On this trip we picked up five clients. Margaret was feeling a bit wobbly that day but soon perked up as we got on the road and chatted together. Cath had just come out of hospital where she’d been for a month and everyone was delighted to see her back and looking so well. Steve is blind but recognised Cath’s voice straight away as he took his seat next to her. This was clearly a group of good friends.
Back at ElderLink, with everyone off the bus, David and Philip set off again for another run of pick-ups. From the smell, lunch was well on its way. More volunteers had joined the team whilst we were out – John putting on an apron, Chris mashing potato and Mehjibeen offering tea and coffee as the clients arrived and settled in. I talked with Steve from the bus who told me how he had lost his sight in 1969 through an accident when he worked as a mechanic, and shared his passionate political views.
Lunch was ready by 1pm. That day the menu was roast chicken, roast potatoes, mashed potato and swede, stuffing, cauliflower, sprouts and gravy, followed by pineapple upside-down cake with custard. Everything had been freshly prepared from scratch and was delicious. I sat on a table with Eddie, who had grown up in the Caribbean and come to Birmingham in his early twenties to be a truck driver. He played the steel drums and had performed with his band on P&O cruise ships. It struck me that every lunch club member in the room had their own unique life story to tell.
As the debris from lunch was being cleared away, we gathered around the visiting entertainment, the ‘Harborne String Quartet’, and listened to a programme of tunes from Mozart to Les Misérables. It was nearly 3pm and I had to leave the lunch club, but there was still a lot to be done. “We always finish with a prayer,” said Rachel, “and then the minibus will go back out to take clients home and we’ll clean up.”
My day at ElderLink showed me this was not just a lunch club. The staff, volunteers and clients together made up a valued community of friends who cared for one another, and God was at the heart of it. So thank you, ElderLink, for having me!
“Things have happened in my life, but this lunch club is one of the good things.” Steve, Client
“I love it. They’re a delightful crowd. All the clients have their own sense of humour, just the same as anyone. At times, if there’s something troubling them, they’ll talk to us and ask us to pray. It’s just being available for them, really.” David, Volunteer
“I like to help. It is a way to serve God. Bringing happiness to people is a way to be happy. I’m coming back next week.” Zaynab, Volunteer