MEGHAN Markle says her dad inspired her to volunteer at a soup kitchen at 13 – for me it was my grandma. She is my hero.
Imagine spending your whole life helping other people. She takes elderly people on days out and helps out at the church as well, baking cakes and raising money. She even still helps the hard-of-hearing, and she’s 90!
So when my stepmum suggested I help out with her at the YMCA in Romford a few years back, it seemed only natural to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in.
But I don’t want people thinking I’m some kind of saint – it actually embarrasses me even talking about it because it feels like I’m virtue signalling, like, “Ooh look at me, I do stuff for charity.”
The reality is that I do it because I really enjoy it – and I’m lucky enough to have the time for it.
I go down now and again and sing, it’s so much fun. Honestly, it’s the most appreciative crowd I’ve ever had!
And they love the old songs that I love singing too, all the classics like a bit of Elvis and Eva Cassidy, so it’s win-win.
I’m always on tea and coffee duty. I love that bit – that’s the busiest station.
Everyone goes up to get their soup and their porridge once, but they can have as many teas and coffees as they like, so it means I get to talk to people the whole time.
I just love hearing their stories – how they’ve ended up in the situation they’re in and how they’re hoping to get out of it (although not all of them are).
I’m really intrigued by the kindness of some people that turn up and their attitudes towards life, it’s actually quite inspiring.
She’s homeless – pretty rare as most people who come to the shelter are men – and she’s quite extraordinary.
She’s always travelling and going to different places, and I think there’s something really special about her.
Even though she’s facing such hardship and living in a way that most of us can’t imagine, she’s still so happy and positive and still dreams about where she’s going to go next and who she’s going to meet.
Some people recognise me when I help out, and they’re always really nice, but most of them don’t have a clue I’m on telly. They don’t have mobile phones or TVs or access to the news, and a lot of people are from different countries and don’t speak English.
With the language barrier it’s sometimes a bit awkward if I make a joke and they’re like, “Umm, what are you saying?”
Joe came with me the first time I went to one shelter. I was like, “You’ve got to come, you’ll love it!”
And he did too. He was on porridge duty which is perfect as he’s such a feeder!
If me and the boys go to his house, he loves making us dinner, so I knew he’d enjoy making sure everyone was fed at the shelter.
It’s always a really emotional experience being around such poverty and homelessness, but the last thing they want to see is me crying – that wouldn’t help anybody.
So I try to be as positive and happy as I can because I don’t think they often see a smiley face when they’re sleeping rough on the streets.
It does make me feel a bit guilty about how lucky I am in my life.
But even if I didn’t volunteer at the homeless shelter I would still feel guilty because my family aren’t in the same position as me.
My sister is a paediatric nurse and she works every hour there is for a fraction of what I get paid.
I often feel I don’t deserve what I have, and that the whole thing is unjust.
That’s one of the reasons I take my boys down there as well sometimes – they love it, they get so much fuss and attention! My son calls out at the bingo, and they play bowls with the older people.
One of them was sat with an elderly gentleman for hours while he told him all about his childhood and his time during the war.
It does help give kids a much broader perspective on life.
I think it’s important they grow up knowing they’re really lucky and privileged, and that they should give back. I know that sounds so corny and cheesy, but it’s character building.
I’m lucky as hell to have had the chances I’ve had – and to live the life I have now.
So what better lesson could my boys learn than to give thanks by helping people at the shelter have a better day? Even if it’s just through a game of bowls, a singsong… or a cuppa.
P.S. This is all lovely and ideal, but I can’t stress enough… nobody should feel guilty about not volunteering.
Life is so busy and often people are working every hour of the day to make ends meet, so I think it’s a luxury and privilege to have the time to volunteer.
Meanwhile, here is more information on Meghan Markle volunteering in a soup kitchen when she was 13.
And, Meghan and Harry visited Social Bite, which gives food to the homeless, in Edinburgh.
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