Community lifelines: 'Sometimes I cry', says founder dishing up free meals

Shukri Adan and her brother Mahad prepare meals in Shukri’s kitchen with the help of two friends.

Shukri Adan and her brother Mahad prepare meals in Shukri’s kitchen with the help of two friends from the Somali community, June 28, 2020. Every Sunday they prepare almost 100 meals and deliver them to a homeless hostel and families struggling across Hackney. Shukri is a Somali refugee who founded Connecting All Communities in 2013 with the intention to help people largely from East African backgrounds integrate and bridge language barriers. Inbetween classes they offered to help with everyday tasks, and started cooking meals for the homeless. - Credit: Grey Hutton//National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

The founder of a community organisation helping to feed Hackney people during the pandemic says making a difference takes an emotional toll but knows vital services like hers must keep running as demand for them grows every day.

Connecting All Communities (CAC) founder Shukri Adan started cooking free meals out of her home at the beginning of the first lockdown last year, delivering them to people in need.

She told the Gazette: “I was doing it in my kitchen and I was doing it for free. There were a lot of people who asked for help and I didn’t have any funding.”

The founder first sought help from members of her community and then later the National Lottery Community Fund and Hackney Council, which led to the organisation securing its premises in Banister House in Clapton.

Shukri Adan on Hackney Downs after distributing meals and presents to familes for Eid, 2nd August, 2

Shukri Adan on Hackney Downs after distributing meals and presents to families for Eid, August 2, 2020. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

Not only has CAC been provided free meat and chicken for meals by Kingsway Halal Butchers in Ridley Road Market, it has also received help from the East London Business Alliance and a young Hackney Wick man from Rahims wholesale even paid for £200 worth of shopping after hearing about its work.

Shukri said: “There is a lot of good people in the community that are willing to help, whichever way they want to and can help the community - which is amazing.”

Shukri, a Somali refugee, set up CAC to tackle social isolation within the Somali and larger east African community in 2013, to help bridge language barriers and bring people from all walks of life together.

Initially, the organisation offered language classes, advice and support at Pembury Community Centre in Lower Clapton, making food for special cultural events and feeding the homeless at Christmas and during Ramadan.

Shukri Adan and some of her volunteers hand out meals and bags filled with small gifts for Eid on Ha

Shukri Adan and some of her volunteers hand out meals and bags filled with small gifts for Eid on Hackney Downs, August 2, 2020. Traditionally families would enjoy a big feast together to mark the end of fasting for the month of Ramadan. This year, due to social distancing, Eid couldn’t be celebrated in large groups so Shukri organised meals and presents to be handed out to families one by one in the park. The day was funded by the Peabody Trust, one of London’s oldest and largest housing associations that often supports grassroots community programs. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund


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But since the pandemic struck, the organisation has shifted its focus.

Shukri told the Gazette: “We still do things online from home, such as education, advice and translation – we still run all that.

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“But the main effort is going on food – collecting, delivering, organising and cooking food. Taking it to vulnerable people and people self-isolating and cooking what they like.

“It’s all about food – whether its food parcels or ready meals, we do both.”

Shukri Adan comforts her youngest daughter while she cries because she can’t join her mother, 28th J

Shukri Adan comforts her youngest daughter while she cries because she can’t join her mother, June 28, 2020. Every Sunday Shukri cooks almost 100 meals at home with her brother, Mahad, and some friends from the Somali community, and then delivers them to struggling families around Hackney. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

Shukri and five other volunteers make meals three days a week and serve and deliver five days a week from 10am to 5pm.

But demand is increasing, Shukri said, “every single day”.

She explained there are two or three disadvantaged people joining the service daily and before it received funding, CAC had to have a waiting list due to high demand. 

In addition, the founder says a lack of volunteers who own bikes or cars means she must deliver to people further away along with a whole host of other tasks.

Outside the Shuttleworth Hostel in Hackney, Shukri Adan and her brother Mahad unpack freshly prepare

Outside the Shuttleworth Hostel in Hackney, Shukri Adan and her brother Mahad unpack freshly prepared meals from the car as two of Shukri’s daughters wait patiently inside, July 15, 2020. Shukri has five children and in order to successfully balance her community work with parenthood, sometimes brings them along. Shukri prepares and delivers fresh food every week to the Shuttleworth Hostel that houses homeless people, leaving it in the foyer for residents to collect. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

Shukri explained: "So we had recently two wonderful women who had bikes and they had been delivering for us.

"But one of them, at Christmas-time, she travelled to her family in Europe and got stuck there. She’s there now and can't come here.

"And the other one fractured her leg.

"So now, I am the only person who is delivering with my car but it's not only delivering. I am collecting, helping organise, applying for funds and responding to emails."

Shukri Adan, founder of Connecting All Communities, hands out freshly prepared meals and bags filled

Shukri, hands out freshly prepared meals and bags filled with vegetables while volunteer Nimo Adan, takes down names outside Banister House Community Hall in Hackney, October 20, 2020. Shukri and Nimo have been friends since college. Nimo is 32 and lives with her young son in Hackney, working during the week as a healthcare assistant caring for the elderly and volunteering with Shukri in her spare time. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

The founder also described the “huge” emotional toll of seeing people she has helped pass away and many others isolated and lonely: “Sometimes it affects me and sometimes I worry about myself, sometimes I worry about them, sometimes I cry."

She continued: “It’s really hard.

“But I don’t want to give up because a lot of people say, ‘please, this is making a difference in my life'.”

Mahad and Nimo help with the new delivery of food to the Banister House Community Hall, 25th August,

Mahad and Nimo help with the new delivery of food to the Banister House Community Hall, August 25, 2020. Demand at food banks has risen sharply so Hackney council has donated this space to their organisation to operate from a few days a week. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

Shukri welcomes donations and new volunteers, especially those with cars or bikes for deliveries.

Donate to CAC on its new website, which was created free of charge by journalist Abdelfatah Ali Shirwa, at www.cac-cic.org.

The Hackney Gazette has teamed up with photographer Grey Hutton to tell the stories of organisations and people helping their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Grey Hutton’s Community Lifelines project visually uncovers the vast and diverse networks of assistance, community foodbanks and services ensuring people in need in Hackney do not go hungry, without care or support.


Shukri and Mahad lead the team of volunteers as they sort through the fruit and vegetables that have

Shukri, Mahad, Nimo, and Halima sort through the fruit and vegetables that have just arrived to Bannister House Community Hall, August 25, 2020. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

Shukri Adan and her friend Fartun Osman prepare the salad at Shukri’s house, 28th June, 2020. They c

Shukri Adan and her friend Fartun Osman prepare the salad at Shukri’s house, June 28, 2020. They cook almost 100 meals every Sunday, delivering them to apartments of struggling families throughout Hackney. Their meals are made from fresh ingredients prepared that day, and always include a healthy portion of vegetables. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund


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