An "office" Christmas lunch like no other

While companies around the country were organising Christmas celebrations for staff, homeless charity Stëmm vun der Strooss hosted its own large-scale lunch for the country’s most vulnerable.

Now in its twenty-third edition, the lunch hosted at the Bonnevoie cultural centre placed 400 people living on the margins of society at the centre of celebrations, inviting 80 volunteers from all walks of life to serve and make them feel special.

“A hot meal is a basic necessity to live. But this lunch is about more than just eating,” event coordinator Tony Barrela said. “It’s a place of support from this external world where they don’t trust others, a place where they can be at ease. That’s why people go to eat and stay until it closes. It’s warm and there’s music.” Barrela, who has worked for Stëmm for the last three years, said that what he enjoyed most about the day was bringing a smile to people’s faces.

There appeared to be no shortage of people volunteering to help on the day. “50 people requested to volunteer today. We had to select names at random,” Françoise Clement, one of 10 volunteers selected to represent Pictet bank, explained.

Some 400 places were laid out at the Stëmm vun der Strooss lunch. Photo: Delano

Prior to the lunch start a Stëmm staff member gave a briefing to volunteers explaining that not all stakeholders would be appreciative, and volunteers should not take a negative response personally.

Chico Pettie, a volunteer from Morgan Stanley, acknowledged the challenges: “I think it’s going to be quite difficult, emotionally, because you’re giving to people who don’t often have things done for them. They might see their life as one struggle after another. Today it’s not like that. Sonny Gosal and Raffael Maia attended the lunch as their employer, TM Immo, was a sponsor. Gosal brought his two children so they could “see what life is really about.”

“It’s not just about living in Luxembourg and everyone living in a house and earning remarkable amounts of money. I think it’s important for them to see that other people need help,” he said.

Other stands included the Ken Kries barber truck, which offered free haircuts and grooming services. A popcorn and candy floss stand from Jungen- an Drogenhëllef, and portraits of homeless people by Titania Helbach.

Titania Helbach shows the mouse mats she made from her portraits. Photo: Delano

A hobby artist, Helbach began her series “Luxembourg savoir survivre” (know how to survive) of homeless portraits to challenge the “Luxembourg, Lëtz make it happen” campaign. “These are people whose goal is to survive from one day to the next,” she said. Because the subjects do not have a home where they can hang the portraits, she printed them onto mouse mats, so they can carry them around with them. “I want these people to know that they are valued enough to be painted,” she said.

Like the volunteers, the stakeholders represented a panoply of different nationalities, from Tunisia to Mexico, Spain and Italy. Most wanted to just enjoy the moment and shied away from the limelight. But others, like Hassiba, were open. Of Maghrebin origin, Hassiba came alone to Luxembourg from France at the end of November for work. She has an undeclared job and lives at a homeless foyer for the timebeing. “I don’t feel like a foreigner here,” she said. “I feel that in Luxembourg there is greater respect for human beings that in France.”