(Picture Credit: Shivansh Sharma)
By: Shivansh Sharma
"Many people help a homeless person by giving a pound, buying a coffee, or a sandwich. And they never know what happens next. And so I want to be, "what happens next" this is what Ray Woolford always feels like.
He wanted his story to be a reminder to the world that some extraordinary things only happen to those who are kind is others.
Ray Woolford grew up in a children's home and ran out of it at a very young age, around the 70s.
After running out of Children's care, he had no other place to live, so he ended up living on the streets of London. Other people like him, those who had nothing, but they still tried to help him in his difficult times.
People with nothing would give him their bed for the night, and people gave him the last cigarette or their last pound.
Later, when he grew older, he established his own business; no one would have predicted that he would be able to do so, but he did.
He opened his first social enterprise, a state agency in the UK. Moreover, he built a very successful property company and used the profits to support people in crisis.
In 2014, a moment occurred in his life that he had no idea would impact his entire life.
He came upon three young men in suits searching the dumpsters for food. Why are you digging through the bins? Ray inquired. They stated we were seeking food; we have a new job, but it will be five weeks before we get paid. Despite having employment, the benefits system will not give us any money, and we will go hungry.
To stop this madness, Ray thought of setting up a food bank with one of his friends. In 2014, they started a WE CARE food bank, thinking they would be doing it for three months. However, in 2023, the We Care food bank will turn 10.
Ray said, "This project is about helping communities to help themselves when there is no money and the council and the government is not doing the job they should be."
Ray added, "I set up the food bank, not as an extension of the government, “We see ourselves as solidarity, not charity."
Ray believes that humans are to blame for COVID, which has killed fewer people than poverty, which is killing people today, tomorrow, and in the days to come.
His contribution to running the food bank was part-time, but in 2016, Ray sold his company and gave his life to the We Care food bankPreviously, it was handled by volunteers, and Ray recognized a problem: some obtained jobs, people had other concerns, and some relocated. According to him, running a food bank requires dedicated people who perform this task, which was challenging to locate.
He added, "Even though I have a wonderful team of volunteers, they all have other crises. I have a crisis to deal with as well. But I have to be here. And that is the reality of it".
In a year, the We Care food bank fed around 40,000 to 50,000 people through their project and gave five tonnes of food a week to people.
Ray believes everyone desires respect and decency, regardless of whether they are homeless or refugees. He is not running a food bank for just one person, and it is critical that when the homeless or refugees come here, they enter and pick clothing just like everyone else.
He said, "Nothing is more demeaning than claiming these items are for the homeless or migrants. It is the same as insulting them. If you are homeless or a refugee, you do not want to be reminded constantly".
He leads a non-profit that feeds thousands of people. He does it for free because he believes that the community should be nourished and cared for and that children should not die of hunger on the streets.
Furthermore, he transformed one of the phone boxes into the community hub, which is located beneath the 'rainbow bridge' on Deptford High Street.
When he came up with the idea of turning the phone box into a community hub before it was used as a toilet, and so he complained to the owners of the phone box, British Telecom,
When people get off the train, they see these grim phone boxes first. Furthermore, he asked the phone company to at least keep it clean.
They asked what you would do with it, and he was not expecting to have a phone box. He said, "I would turn it into the world's first community hub."
And so, within a week, they offered it for one pound, and he bought it.
Now it has a book swap library which contains local information. So if you are in a crisis, and nobody has a crisis nine to five, when you have a problem, you try to ring somebody, which is how Ray feels.
He added, "The phone box is the perfect example of my philosophy that if you can change a community with one square foot. What will happen to those places if there are so many abandoned buildings and wastelands? So it's not always about the money".
Ray was most proud that the people gave them the money rather than the state or the council—people throughout the country supported them. We Care about food banks because they know their work and services.
He got emotional while narrating one incident that had a lasting effect on him.
When he was leaving the food bank via the front entrance like he did every day, a black lady getting into a car exclaimed, 'I love what you do, Ray; keep up the excellent work.' And then she got into her car.
Furthermore, later another stranger complimented him on his work, and then a bunch of school kids passed by and said, 'Ray, we love you,' When he got home, he sobbed, and that day he felt highly pleased with his work.
On the brink of crying, Ray said, "It is an extraordinary experience to be loved by strangers in your community. The people are not numbers, not clients, they are not members, they all become friends, and I love all of them".
That was the day he realized the significance of his work to the well-being of the community he served.
He is attempting to develop a functional model for others to follow with this effort.
He added, "When I am long gone, and if the crisis exists, I want my work to inspire others, which is why I write, give interviews and promote media coverage."
Ray had been put forward for Queen's owner twice from the state, and he rejected on the premise that 'I do not want any honors from the State.'
He said, "Every day I opened the food bank door, I felt appreciated. And I do not believe in honors".
Ray's partner is a schoolteacher who has trained as a priest. They have been married for 22 years.
He does not believe in religion and is married to a man devoted to a church.
He added, "It is very contradictory. I tell him I do the real god's work every day, and he talks about doing god's work, but I do it".
While emphasizing his partner's support for this job, he also said his partner is battling cancer. Ray was dealing with a lot at the same time.
He explained, "My partner is fighting cancer, and we also have Ukrainian refugees in our house, so it is like my home house is as crazy as my workhouse."
Ray had a fantastic view of things; the statement itself described, "When somebody is dying of cancer, the positive part is you have time to build memories, do activities together, and treasure every minute."
He added, "There is a problem with people wanting more for them; you do not need more and more; you need good health, great family and friends, and to do what you want. I am not driven by money; I have what I need and am satisfied".
Money was one reason he gave up the property business; for some people, it would be hard to believe.
Ray said, "I hated greed and found it increasingly difficult working in a housing and property bubble that was making me rich. I was surrounded by people who were only motivated to make the next million without even caring about the quality of life."
This is the story of a man who believes in giving back to the world.
A man is so brave that he gave up his career for the people.
A man is so kind that his only desire is to help others.
A man so generous that he would give up anything for a fellow human in need.
"Always treat people that you would like them to treat you – Ray Woolford."
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