A year of innovation
2021 was a year of innovation and opportunity for Serve the City but above all, it was a year of immense volunteer mobilisation. I was overwhelmed by the support that we received from our partners and volunteers, and we witnessed action across so many different neighbourhoods of Brussels.
It was a year where we intensified our activity in food distribution. Thanks to a subsidy from the Commission Communautaire Française (COCOF) we expanded our food outreach projects and consolidated our partnership with the ‘Personnes Sans Abri’ (PSA) Centre managed by the Red Cross. Working closely with our partner ‘Community Kitchen’, we were able to deliver some 1600 hot meals to the centre every week! This was certainly a challenge but one which was overcome by the efforts of incredible teams of committed volunteers, and we truly wouldn’t have been able to fight hunger to the extent that we did without their support.
We also gained an additional space to organise and centralise our food distribution activities with the installation of a semi-professional kitchen at our office. This was thanks to funds from a successful Facebook fundraiser and from the United Fund for Belgium.
Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of this year was the official launch of the Serve the City volunteering app, “ServeNow”. Using the app, volunteers can view project details and sign up directly for shifts, constituting a huge step forward in the professionalisation of Serve the City’s volunteer management and data gathering processes. I’m excited to see just how far our values of compassion, courage and hope spread throughout the city as our volunteer uptake increases!
2021 was also a year of reigniting momentum for our monthly Big Volunteer Days and our annual Big Volunteer Week, events that had previously been cancelled due to COVID restrictions. These events are an opportunity to create and develop teams of volunteers, providing us with opportunities to invest in projects with partner NGOS. In particular, our projects with children of asylum seekers in centres in Etterbeek, Koekelberg, and Woluwe Saint-Lambert really show just how much can be achieved when communities of volunteers mobilise themselves around a project.
Despite an ease in restrictions, we still felt the impact of COVID-19 and several projects remained on hold throughout the year. But the dedication of our volunteers, project leaders and donors did not wane. They are the backbone of our organisation, and the engine behind broadening our values of love and compassion and spreading kindness in the city. This gives me great hope, and we look towards a 2022 marked by further opportunity for our beneficiaries and volunteers.
Here’s to another fantastic year of service!
2021 Output and Impact
We mobilised a total of
or the equivalent of
for a personal impact of
With the help of our volunteers, we served
over 7 000 unique beneficiaries
with a direct economic impact of €242K ca.* through
over 7 000 unique beneficiaries
with a direct economic impact of €242K ca.* through
In October 2020 I started volunteering at the Lunch 4 All project up to 4 times a week; it was during a lockdown and I found it gave me purpose and structure to an otherwise very challenging time. In June 2021 I was asked to help lead the project twice a week. I had many doubts about my capabilities to take on this responsibility as 300 - 400 people come to the Red Cross centre every lunchtime. Happily, I tried and I have now been a project leader for one year. I am 61 years old and volunteering with STC has become very important to me at this stage of my life. My confidence has grown, I feel useful and it’s very satisfying to be part of this team. I give my time but I receive so much more.
A spark for change
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a difficult 2020, a year in which our funding sources and projects were severely disrupted. We lost much of the physical contact we had with both our volunteers and our beneficiaries as a result of strict lockdowns. The number of our social exchange projects fell to zero, and only projects considered to be of humanitarian help (such as some food outreach projects) were able to continue running, with a much-reduced number of volunteers.
2021 was a year of new hope; a year to finally bring back our projects and provide all that our partners and beneficiaries needed. But 2021 was not without its challenges. Changes in restrictions affected our projects’ schedules, and planning fundraising events in such uncertainty was near impossible. Our team went back and forth between working from home and at the office, challenging our coordination capacity.
But with every crisis comes change, and we were ready for it. To adapt to the changing environment was to rethink how our volunteering projects and events were organised, and the situation encouraged us to rely more on our ServeNow app for managing project registrations and communications. Big Volunteer Days were reworked from being separate events to being a coherent set of monthly projects. These new, recurring opportunities have allowed us to develop teams of volunteers that meet regularly and are open to expansion. This has made it possible for us to create communities of people working together on issues that we previously did not have the capacity to work on.
Although some projects did not return to their pre-COVID functions, we focused our efforts where we could: most of our food outreach projects were considered humanitarian work, and we were therefore able to continue developing them and providing meals to those who needed it. Lunch 4 Refugees, re-branded as Lunch 4 All (as everyone is welcome, not only refugees), multiplied its distributions, and by the end of 2021, Serve the City was in charge of providing the meals and managing the distribution four times per week. Our lunch bag collections helped us collect hundreds of ready-made bags (made by volunteers at home) and provide meals to beneficiaries at the Malice centre, a new partner in need of support. Finally, Le Phare continued providing full meals twice a week to approximately 200 people who came to each distribution.
Little by little, our weekly projects re-started, still under the shadow of COVID-19 restrictions and outbreaks. By the end of the year, we even counted a few new shifts and projects, such as the Koekelberg Homework Club. Events also made a comeback, allowing our volunteers to decorate centres for Christmas, bring presents for children, organise a pub quiz, and join us on team buildings. And so, despite a year with many limitations, our volunteering community bounced back with renewed strength. New leaders brought fresh energy and ideas, and new and returning volunteers worked to improve the systems in place. A new chapter started in our movement, and it is marked by a new milestone: we took more than 90 people to the zoo!
You made me realise that studying makes a difference in my grades. You helped me learn French which helped me make friends at school. No one else can really help me. My parents are still learning French, so they find it very hard to help me. I am teaching them French, so your help means I can help them.
The partnership with Community Kitchen started during the most difficult moments of 2020, and now it has become one of our most cherished allies in our fight against food insecurity. Since April 2021, Serve the City volunteers have joined the Community Kitchen team to cook and portion out an average of 2000 meals per week. Volunteers help the cooks in the kitchen four times a week, but also join portioning shifts, dividing the meals into individual, take-away containers that are easier to distribute and more hygienic. The meals are still distributed at Serve the City distributions Lunch 4 All and Le Phare, and altogether, we are able to provide a hot meal to approximatively 600 vulnerable people every week. The cost of the hot meals is covered in equal parts by the Community Kitchen and Serve the City. In 2021, the project was partially funded with the support of the COCOF.
The end of 2021 brought some of our best news of the year: the development of the Trampoline project. Our partnership with the non-profit organisation Oasis Belgium, with the support of the King Baudouin Foundation and Equal Brussels, will hopefully yield considerable results. Through the Trampoline project, Serve the City will provide regular volunteering opportunities for vulnerable women in situations such as abuse or trafficking. These women will be invited to join some of our volunteering opportunities as a way to engage with the local community in a safe environment. Serve the City will also provide volunteers who will act as mentors to the women, assisting them in improving their social and economic situations while developing deeper relationships. Serve the City and Oasis also collaborate to train mentors wanting to get involved, by proposing a series of compulsory online training and follow-up meetings. The project will start running in January 2022.
Here is a view of our different projects organised in four categories: food outreach, practical, educational and social exchange, each with key statistic where available.
For more information about our projects, download our ServeNow app.
Key statistic / event
78 128 hot meal portions prepared
12 600 full meals (drink, snack, …)
Petites Soeurs des Pauvres
Lunch 4 All
65 528 hot meals served
3 388 breakfasts served
533 books distributed
Jourdan Homework Club
Trip to the zoo for 90 people
Gulledelle Homework Club
60 presents distributed at Christmas
Koekelberg Homework Club
Presents given by Saint Nicolas
Games for Refugees
Jourdan Games & Fun
Easter Egg hunt organised for 40 children
Logistics at Serve the City
Solidarité Grand Froids
1 315 km driven to deliver food
Logistics at Red Cross PSA
I like when you come to help us. I don’t like doing homework alone. When you’re here you make us feel like we can do it. When I’m on my own I don’t believe I can. My mum can’t really help me and doing homework on my own is hard. I feel less scared when I do it with you. You help me concentrate. It’s not boring, you make it fun. It is different than at school. Here I can be me. I feel more at home here. You’re my friends. It’s more fun.
2021 Activities and Events
Every week, Serve the City organises information sessions for those interested in volunteering with us. Those interested in volunteering register for a session on our website, after which they can participate fully as a volunteer. Informing volunteers about our organisation, volunteering opportunities, and use of ServeNow have proven to help them feel more comfortable with our procedures. They are also now better informed about the values and ways of work in our organisation, which eases the task of project leaders on the field.
To ease the transition to the new system, our team decided to diversify our information sessions and propose multiple dates and languages. Since March 2021, information sessions in French occur twice a week, rather than just in English. Later in the year, French information sessions were reduced to once a week, but a new language was introduced: Flemish. Since November 2021, our team struck a good balance by offering three sessions per week, one in each language above.
In 2021, we organised 9 Big Volunteer Days. Serve the City’s Big Volunteer Days are the perfect opportunity to try volunteering and be reminded of its benefits for the greater community. Volunteers are offered multiple volunteering opportunities on the same day that target different groups of beneficiaries (elderly people, refugees, asylum seekers, vulnerable children, etc.). These opportunities are usually those that our teams do not have the capacity to organise weekly or specific activities assisting one of our partners with a particular task.
Due to the inconsistency in COVID-19 restrictions, our Big Volunteer Days had to be planned with care and imagination. We were fortunately able to propose in-person volunteering opportunities in most of the 9 events, and we complemented each one with a lunch bag collection so that volunteers from home could still get involved. A total of 43 people joined our Big Volunteer Days in-person during the year, a much lower figure than in previous years due to the maximum limit to in-person volunteers per project. We also organised a Big Volunteer Week, during which 56 participants joined for a mixture of in-person and at-home volunteering.
This new context, influenced by COVID-19 restrictions and the new ServeNow system, inspired a change in our vision for Big Volunteer Days. Big Volunteer Days are no longer conceived as specific events with an entirely different group of people each time but as regular volunteer events for communities that work on projects regularly. Projects that began through the Big Volunteer Days have become monthly projects, managed by groups of volunteers that have got to know the projects, partners and beneficiaries well enough to make the project run independently, without the constant support of our office. Project leaders have taken the initiative to train other regular volunteers to introduce them to the tasks that need to be done. Although project registrations were moved to ServeNow, Big Volunteer Days continue to be open to everyone. Users only need to download the app and create a profile to be able to register for shifts.
Serve the City’s yearly International Forum brings together volunteers and staff from the Serve the City International network, as a way to connect the different STC organisations and to enhance coherence among them. The 2021 Forum was held in Paris from 22nd to 25th October on the theme of “Creating Communities” and included workshops of organisation management and global contemporary issues. In order to make the event more accessible worldwide, several trainings and workshops were held online.
This year’s forum was also a great opportunity for our complete team to be in person, building relationships after so many months of working from home. It also gave us a new perspective on our Street Kindness project, inspired by Serve the City Paris.
The ZOOM-IN panel discussion is a training experience we offer so that our volunteering community can gain a better understanding of specific topics related to our fields of service (i.e. homelessness, migration, social inclusion, etc.). During our ZOOM-IN panels, experts and individuals affected by a specific issue are invited to talk and interact with volunteers. These events are great opportunities to share experiences, equip volunteers with new knowledge, and build awareness throughout our volunteering community.
This year, our two ZOOM-IN events focused on the personal story of our project leader and former volunteer coordinator, Mahmoud Qeshreh, who shared his journey as a refugee from Syria. The events took place online and gathered a total of 91 people.
The Second-hand English booksale is a fun fundraiser event hosted at the Stonemanor British store in Everberg, where people can come with their families and buy second-hand English books for 1 EUR per cm. Due to COVID safety measures in 2021, the price was changed temporarily to 1 EUR per book to avoid long queues.
After a year and a half pause due to the pandemic, we were finally able to run this event in September with the necessary health measures in place. Once again the good weather was part of the equation! In total, we raised over €5,000 to support our projects across Brussels.
The booksale is typically co-organised by the English Booksale Charity Committee and Serve the City volunteers. As of 2022, Serve the City will take over the organisation and logistics of the event entirely.
The Serve the City Pub Quiz is a regular fundraising event that we typically organise on a monthly basis. This event is not only aimed at raising money, but is also a a key opportunity for volunteers and friends of Serve the City to get together for a fun night out. The proceeds go to a nominated project or cause.
Between January and May, we ran five online pub quizzes with an average of 75 participants per event. The pub quizzes were online due to the health regulations in place at the time. Of course, we were really looking forward to doing the event in-person as we usually do at the Black Sheep Pub in Ixelles.
.. And this happened in October! 20 teams participated and the proceeds went towards our trip to the Antwerp Zoo with children from the Samusocial Jourdan Centre.
Due to the heightened COVID epedemic thereafer, we were unfortunalely unable to host pub quizzes for the rest of the year.
Serve the City’s volunteering app, ServeNow, was launched with the goal of enhancing communication between volunteers and project leaders, and redesigning the volunteer registration and management system. Following a pilot in 2020 which featured two test projects, the app has been gradually populated with all of Serve the City’s projects since January 2021, and it has been an absolute game changer for all concerned!
Thanks to ServeNow, Serve the City can instantly view data and analytics that measure our effectiveness and outreach as an organisation. We are able to gauge our volunteer engagement (ie. number of new volunteers, total volunteer numbers), our volunteer retention (number of repeat volunteers), our impact (ie. average number of hours volunteered), and areas for improvement (eg. identifying projects volunteer shift decline, etc).
Where it was difficult to manage project attendance in the past, with ServeNow, volunteers can sign up and cancel their shift attendance in one click, and project leaders can quickly and effectively check attendance and plan ahead. Volunteer statistics and trends also help us to coordinate more effectively with local partners. Crucially, the app enabled Serve the City to relaunch projects post-COVID in a more efficient manner.
With the travel bans slowly lifting for intra-EU travels, our international volunteering programme was able to resume, of course at a very slow pace.
For this we partner with IVHQ, a social business based in New Zealand with a wide portfolio of destinations worldwide. The individuals who sign up for the project come from many countries with the drive to give back to the places they are visiting whilst having time to see and enjoy the countries they are in.
We were able to welcome a total of 14 international volunteers coming from 6 different countries. They supported us in our various projects for a total of 39 weeks.
The vision of Serve the City is not only to connect individuals with the needs of the city but also organisations and companies.
Both private and public sector organisations can bring much needed resources and expertise to the needs of the city. These resources come in many forms.
The main way organisations engage with us is through our corporate volunteering activities where companies and institutions contribute to our objectives by hiring us to run volunteer events for and with them.
For these events, we aim to combine enjoyment and empathy. In the first place, this allows the participants to discover themselves and their coworkers in a deeper and different way from a normal work day. On the other hand, it allows us to inform citizens and promote the benefits of volunteering. Before the actual volunteering action, we always prepare our participants and give information about the population we are going to serve. It is always a good occasion to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness or the challenges that migrants face.
After an entire year without any corporate volunteering event, 2021 marked a timid return of corporate events. We held our first digital workshop in January, and from the month of June, we were able to have some limited corporate volunteering activities, including with the following companies:
After a challenging 2020, we, like everyone else, hoped to see 2021 be the year the world restarts, and therefore the return of our funding activities. But after a couple of false starts, it became clear that this wouldn’t be the case just yet.
With intermittent lockdowns in place, some of our key revenue streams pre-COVID still suffered greatly, specifically in-person volunteering and cross-border travel. But still, we were able to organise some corporate volunteering events when the conditions allowed it, and intra-EU travels were partially allowed, helping to slowly restart these activities.
We also were able to organise some fundraising events such as online pub quizzes, and most importantly the Second-Hand English Booksale was able to take place with special safety measures in September, and it was a great time to see people again, gathering together while keeping their distances, finding the treasured book all while raising funds for our projects.
However as in 2020, our focus remained on personal donations and the goodwill of people really made a difference once again.
But most importantly, 2021 was a key year as for the first time in our history, we received governmental subsidies. These came from the COCOF (Commission communautaire française) for our food outreach projects that developed drastically during COVID. Serve the City was one of the 26 organisation selected by the COCOF. If we are honest, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we received the positive answer. Needless to say these subsidies were instrumental to the success of our partnership with the Red Cross and Community Kitchen.
Last but not least, our recognised charity status, which allows our donors to claim a 45% fiscal deduction on all donations exceeding EUR 40, and which was instrumental the last couple of years, was extended to at least 2025!
While still limiting possibilities for our income streams, the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge negative impact on the most fragile in our city. As we expected at the end of 2020, our revenue from corporate and international volunteering remained negligible for the first part of 2021. However, thanks to a surplus from 2020 and our first governmental subsidy, we were able to drastically increase our project support.
From 12 000 hot meals in 2020, we grew to 74 000, thanks amongst others to our partnership with Community Kitchen.
Volunteers at the Samusocial Jourdan Centre for asylum seekers help children with both language learning (French and Dutch) and with homework. Children participate in the activities every Wednesday evening, but its much deeper than pen and paper instruction…
Tim started volunteering in 2020 amid the COVID-19 lockdowns. Ever since social interactions had slowed as a result of pandemic regulations, volunteering seemed like a good way to make new friends while doing something good for the community.
In October 2020, a new centre for asylum seekers opened its doors by Place Jourdan. The Mobile Library, one of the many Serve the City projects that Tim took part in, helped the new centre by setting up a library in their common room so that asylum seekers and their families could better access books and various learning materials. Throughout this project, Tim got to know the staff and the residents of the centre and wanted to help them in more ways. “It quickly became clear that the children who were living in the centre needed educational support,” Tim recalls. “And so, the Jourdan Homework Club was born.”
Tim and a team of dedicated volunteers started going to the centre twice a week to provide homework and educational support to the children. The sessions included maths and grammar tutoring, but also a variety of social events. Alongside the regular homework sessions, Serve the City also organised activities with the residents such as Easter Egg Hunts and a visit from St Nicolas.
During one of the homework sessions, it became clear what the next activity had to be. One of the children was naming the animals that were painted on the walls in the activity room. “He was sure that the animals on the wall, a giraffe and an elephant, were magical creatures, like a unicorn, that only exist in stories,” Tim explains. “After lots of convincing that animals like giraffes and elephants are in fact real, he was so excited and was watching videos of giraffes for an hour on my phone. I then discovered that many of the other children also thought these animals were made up, which made me realise that our next activity had to be a trip to the zoo.”
After months of fundraising and organising, Serve the City managed to take over 120 people to Planckendael Zoo. This mainly consisted of families from the Jourdan centre, but also included a team of 25 volunteers. International German School of Brussels’ parents very generously provided the lunch for all those attending. Most of the people from the centre had never had the opportunity to visit a zoo, making the project especially meaningful for everyone involved. “I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life. Seeing the children discover these new things was very special.”
Volunteering has impacted me in ways I wasn’t really expecting. Initially I thought I would do something good for the community and make friends. I have definitely made friends for life and I do feel like I have made a contribution to my community. But volunteering turned out to impact me in many more ways. It has become such a huge part of my life. It has impacted the way I look at the world. The importance I attach to things has also completely changed. It has truly changed me in ways that I was not anticipating.
Establish a working relationship between Brussels and Leuven now that the administrative steps for the merger are complete.
Organise a FirstServe event or project in a new city in Belgium.
Start new projects, with a focus on the Trampoline Project (in partnership with Oasis Belgium) and our Community Garden.
Restart our corporate activities and partnerships.
Reactivate weekly projects closed due to COVID and rebuild relationships with our project leaders.
Diversify our income streams by applying for government subsidies.
Develop and grow the Belgian Serve the City network, including STC Brussels, STC Leuven and STC Wavre to increase our range of action across the country.
Increase and further raise awareness about volunteering, through our volunteering events (Big Volunteer Days and Big Volunteer Week), public speaking events, and partnerships in order to create a strong, diversified and unified volunteering community.
Train and expand our network of project leaders.
Increase our search for subsidies and stable funding opportunities.
Resume and further develop our environmental and sustainable projects, including looking at ways we can make some of our projects more environmentally friendly.
Generate recognition of the societal value of volunteering and acknowledgement that it is a crucial part of the well-being of our society in Belgium.
Underpin Serve the City Belgium as a well-established and resilient structure, with stable funding sources, capable of responding quickly and efficiently to the needs of vulnerable people both in the city of Brussels and in the whole of Belgium.
Facilitate a well trained community of volunteers and project leaders, who understand the needs of those we serve and who are capable of responding to these needs in an efficient and kind manner.
Redesign all our projects to be 100% sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Continue to live our values while serving people in need, to inspire individuals to make a difference and spread kindness, transform entire neighbourhoods through volunteering, and break down barriers between groups of people.