When Jacqui Haynes was a child, she had a habit of bringing strays back to the family flat in Ladbroke Grove, west London. Once she found a guy on the road who had taken drugs and was visibly distressed and paranoid. Haynes told him her mother would look after him.
“My mum would say ‘you can’t bring everybody home who has a problem, Jacqui,’” says Haynes, now 53. “’They will rob my house!’”
Haynes says she’s been that way her whole life: “If anyone needs advice or support, I’m the know-it-all. I think I was born that way. I’m quite good at it.”
Haynes, who still lives in Ladbroke Grove, now runs breakfast clubs and free lunches at St Peter’s Church in Paddington. It all began when she was at church in 2005. “Lots of people were coming in for help,” she says, “and there was no one to help them. I thought, ‘I could do this.’”
She started by offering a Saturday lunch service. She says: “From that we got to know people, and realized there were a lot in food poverty. There is very little provision here. We’re at the poor end of Maida Vale. There are a lot of hostels for people with mental health problems. It’s a dumping ground for people who are on the fringes of society.”
Every Wednesday, Haynes provides a full English breakfast for the 50-strong group. On Saturdays, it’s a three-course lunch.
“I do homemade soup, a cooked dinner with meat and two veg, and pudding for afters,” she says. On Thursdays, she offers a food bag with items people can take home and cook. But if people are homeless or can’t cook, she’ll make them ready-meals and sandwiches. She adds: “My whole life is surrounded by food. In north Paddington, people put me in their phone book as ‘Jacqui dinner lady’.”
Demand has only increased. When universal credit was introduced I had to buy two extra fridges to cope with demand,” Haynes says.
When the pandemic began, she had to purchase an extra freezer because “we needed more supplies. Some people were frightened to come out of the house, so we had to make extra deliveries.”
She is concerned about the rising cost of living. “Food is getting so expensive,” says Haynes. “People are paying £7 a day just for gas on their meters. And that’s going to go up when it gets cold.”
On average, Haynes feeds about 50 people a day, but she expects to see that rise come winter.
People are sometimes so ashamed, they ask to collect food from the back door. “I know how that feels,” Haynes says. “The first time I thought of claiming benefits, when I had my daughter, I walked into the benefits office, started to cry, and walked back out.” She reassures people that there is no shame in using a food bank: “When they get in, they say, ‘It’s not so bad. It’s okay. It doesn’t feel like you’re begging.’ Some people stand in the queue and have a laugh and a chat. But some people are vulnerable, and just want to get their food and go.”
Everything Haynes does, she does for free, on her own time. “I believe what you give you’ll get back tenfold,” she says. In addition to her work at the food bank, she operates a support service in North Kensington, offering people help with legal issues, advocacy and school appeals, and she is heavily involved in the post-Grenfell Tower recovery effort.
“Everyone thinks I’m stupid,” she says, “because I have no income. I work full-time on these projects for nothing.”
Her Christian faith is a big motivator: “I have faith in God and community and humanity, and that will get me through, as long as I fight for what is right.”
“She works nonstop,” says fellow volunteer Wayne Llewellyn. “It’s continuous. Literally, seven days a week, nine-to-five. Ella she’s always on the go.”
When asked about her treat, Haynes tells me money is always tight. She’s going to a wedding soon and she does n’t have anything to wear, saying: “It’s been a big weight on my mind.”
Karen Millen invite Haynes into its flagship store. She takes her daughter and a friend along, and they make a day of it, drinking champagne and trying on outfits. She leaves, thrilled, with three complimentary outfits: a blue trouser suit, a blue and white dress, and a black and white jumpsuit.
“I had an amazing time,” she says. “I never get to spend time like that with my close friends and my daughter. Plus, I love my clothes, and that’s a part of me that was lost when I had children. I didn’t know how much I needed that day until I had it. It was good for the soul, and good for the spirit.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism