News Walthamstow

Borough’s charity heroes honoured for feeding the poor

Two charity heroes were honoured this week for their efforts to feed the borough’s poorest and most vulnerable. On 27th September, Leyton-born Frank […]By Waltham Forest Echo

Saira Begum Mir (left) and Frank Charles (right) receiving their awards for charity work (credit: British Citizens Awards/Frank Charles)
Saira Begum Mir (left) and Frank Charles (right) receiving their awards for charity work (credit: British Citizens Awards/Frank Charles)

Two charity heroes were honoured this week for their efforts to feed the borough’s poorest and most vulnerable.

On 27th September, Leyton-born Frank Charles, who started the Give A Gift Appeal at Whipps Cross Hospital, was given a British Empire Medal for services to Waltham Forest, Redbridge and Newham during Covid.

Two days later, on 29th September, the Walthamstow founder of an eight-year-old foodbank was given a medal of honour by the British Citizen Awards.

Frank, 58, who lives in Wanstead but says his “heart is always in Waltham Forest”, delivered food to Whipps Cross staff, firefighters and struggling households during Covid and has devoted himself to charity “on and off” for 38 years.

He is perhaps best known for his Give a Gift Appeal, which has delivered “maybe 10,000 Christmas gifts, if not more” to sick children in Whipps Cross and other hospitals over the years.

While the appeal only became a formal charity in 2015, this will be Frank’s 18th year delivering presents to Whipps, in memory of his son Ashley, who died in 1989.

He told the Echo he was “blown away” by the royal honour, adding: “I came from a poor family of seven kids in Leyton, that’s what got me into charity. This was the stuff done for me and my brothers and sisters, I’m just paying it forward.”

In addition to handing out food to rough sleepers and struggling families, Frank has continued to deliver to local fire crews and Whipps staff at least once a week.

He explained: “Given the sacrifices they made at a time when the country was at a standstill, that support should not just end because the lockdown has been lifted.”


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Whipps Cross chief executive Alan Gurney said Frank was a “dear friend” to the hospital and “very well known” for his Christmas deliveries.

He said: “This award is truly deserved and we also want to say a heartfelt thank you to Frank on behalf of our patients and staff for his time and continuous generosity over the years.”

Saira Begum Mir set up PL84U AL-SUFFA – which means “plate for you” and then “verandah” in Arabic, to signify hospitality and her Muslim faith – in 2013.

The charity’s purpose is “serving humanity, one plate at a time” and provides food and essentials to thousands of people of all faiths, including hundreds of Christmas meals last year.

Saira, who has Pakistani heritage, was born in Uganda and moved to London with her husband in 1968, finally settling in the borough in 1985.

On receiving her medal, she offered “a massive thanks” to the charity’s volunteers and the community, particularly the 14th Walthamstow Scouts Group.

She said: “Without the use of the Scout hut, we would not have been able to provide the food bank services that have been a lifeline for so many people in our communities.”

The British Citizen Award is celebrated twice a year and aims to recognise “extraordinary, everyday people for exceptional endeavor”.

As previously reported in the Echo, residents who want to donate to PL84U AL-SUFFA can do so through a number of mini foodbanks in the borough created by local artist Sean Rodrigo.

Frank is currently raising money for a van to support his work delivering food to the poor. You can donate here.


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