Word of mouth Crisis, what crisis?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
However many people you cooked for yesterday, it's unlikely it was more than Malcolm Gee (right), this year's volunteer chef at Crisis, who is catering for 600 to 800 people a day, plus around 200 volunteers, over the Christmas holiday. Crisis operates its London Open Christmas Centre as a 24-hour shelter until 30 December, just one of the 22 now open throughout the country.

Christmas lunch, he says, involves some 50 turkeys, plus trimmings and 3,500 roast potatoes. And who peels them? "That's the duty of the night-time volunteers," he says. But despite this huge responsibility, Malcolm is not a chef. He runs a small housing association.

Planning for the week begins in November as promises of food flood in. Malcolm draws up a "wish list" and moulds this to what is on offer. Marks & Spencer is the main donor - among other things, it has given 3,000 mince pies and 1,500 chicken drumsticks. Hill Farm donated virtually all the fresh produce, from sprouts to eggs. And there is support from Sainsbury's, Tate & Lyle and Cafe Direct. Cakes are supplied courtesy of a Lambeth schools' cookathon.

A team of 30 kitchen helpers will work around the clock throughout the week. Despite my visions of near-exhausted volunteers, Malcolm assures me tiredness is not an issue, although everything is prepared overnight. With the help of a little brandy, I enquire hopefully? "Oh, no, the shelter's dry." There is, however, another shelter, where those who feel that Christmas isn't be Christmas without a drink can go for warmth, conviviality and a mince pie. Annie Bell

London Open Christmas Centre, Grove Vale Depot, Vale End, London SE27. Donation Hotline 0800 0384838.