Communications Intern, Haley Allaben, volunteered last week on the Care Van, run in Edinburgh City Mission. She kindly shared her thoughts with us on her experience.

What did you do on the Care Van?

While I was volunteering on the Care Van, I was tasked with making tea and coffee for the people we served. When you’re in the van, driving around, it all seems really quiet but the minute you pull over the whole thing just springs into action. The lovely Mary has the process down to a science: she’ll quickly prepare the food, chatting and catching up with the people who wait patiently outside. Some came over to our side of the van, hoping to warm up with tea and coffee made to their liking while waiting for the food bags to be handed out, especially because the day we volunteered, it was really cold and rainy.

It was really nice while working to hear how many companies were involved in the care van’s operation. Pret a Manger, Tesco and Burr & Co. were among some of the companies that helped in providing food that otherwise would have been tossed out despite being perfectly fresh. For me, seeing how various parts of Edinburgh are involved in helping end homelessness ­– not just charities all on their own. Edinburgh may feel big but in that moment I really felt like it was a city effort, even for something as small as a care van bringing food around to people.

Was the experience what you expected? 

Working the care van was what I expected it to be like, however, the conversations and the stories I heard from Mary and the individuals that approached the van were not. They were so full of energy and in high spirits despite maybe facing difficult situations. Every time they came up to Mary, their faces became animated. It was almost more fun watching Mary brighten their days by just talking to them – friendships she’s created throughout her years working on the van. When I wasn’t making tea or coffee, I was observing Mary chatting, laughing, and sassing the people who approached the van.

When we stopped at the last stop of the day, I remember opening the window and just kind of freezing for a second. The last stop was a block from where I was living which was heart breaking. I know I’ve often caught myself in the preconceived ideas of what homelessness looks like and where it happens. The last stop near my house reminded me that homelessness can happen to anyone, can look like anyone and can exist anywhere. I didn’t expect that moment of “oh gosh, this is my street. This is where I live. How have I never noticed this?” It felt really nice to help people so close to home.

What did you take away from the experience? 

I think for me it just reaffirmed that you never know what someone is going through just based solely on their appearance. Hidden homelessness is difficult. When people blend into the background, it becomes harder to see that they need help and someone to rely on. I’ve been very lucky to work for Bethany while living here in Scotland because I don’t think I would have been surrounded by such caring, selfless and humble humans otherwise. The people, the Care Van, Bethany in general sees the people who would on any other day have nowhere else to turn.

I think when people see small acts of kindness happening by others around them, they gain the confidence to join in and help themselves. A woman approached our van with a box of chocolates, offering them to us to give out since she was going to get rid of them anyways. It’s exciting to see it happen in person – watch one person start a chain of spreading kindness and support to people who need it.