What do you have in your hand?
Pret a Manger was already my go-to chain for my on-the-go sandwich and drink-based needs. Not only do they understand the concept of a dash of milk in tea (the only chain that doesn't slosh in enough to drown a small animal), and have witty, attractive advertising hoardings, they also occasionally give hot drinks on the house to customers who actually engage with staff as if they were human beings (eg: me).
These (and their very yummy jam croissants) are the kinds of things that win and keep my custom, but then I learn about their social conscience, and I get to feel good about my loyalty, too.
I've known for a long time that Pret have been generous with their leftover food at the end of the day, distributing it to charities and local homeless people each evening. Then I heard about their 'Rising Stars' programme, helping homeless people find work and get the training and help they need to stick with it:
"Launched in 2008, the programme takes on over 40 Rising Stars each year. We’ll find them a shop suited to them; nothing too far away, with an understanding team and a supportive manager. Food, travel, accommodation – all the little things are taken care of. For the next three months all they have to do is focus on the job and their future."
Then last Friday I learned about their new partnership with a homeless hostel in south London.
'The Pret House', run by the Pret Foundation and West London Mission, provides a solution to a problem Pret had identified among their Rising Stars:
"Clive Schlee, chief executive of Pret, said the hostel investment had come about after a number of members of the Rising Stars project, which has employed 450 people in the last 10 years, had been unable to complete their training and hold down a job because of the difficulty in finding affordable accommodation and saving for a deposit in London."
In The Pret House residents will have their own room, with shared bathroom, kitchen and dining facilities, and will pay a discounted rent. Importantly, they won't have to pay a deposit for their room, which Pret had identified as one of the key obstacles for people finding long-term accommodation.
What is in your hand?
I found this whole story inspiring and instructive. So often we can look at an issue we care about, and the challenges are so huge that we don't know where to start. I've always loved Exodus 4:2 – Moses is in the midst of his arguments with God, feeling that the task he is being called to is too great and he is inadequate for it. God asks him, "‘What is that in your hand?" and goes on to show him that something as simple as a stick can, in the hands of a mighty God, be used in powerful ways.
Pret looked at what they had in their hands: leftover food. So they started by giving that.
Then they had money – profits from some of their food items, and donations from customers. So they gave that, to a whole range of local charities working to help the homeless.
Then they had opportunities – jobs available, and the staffing and infrastructure to make those jobs accessible for those who needed them most. So they gave jobs.
Then they had enough money, experience and partnership experience to fund a home for those of their staff who needed it most.
Pret is not a Christian organisation, though it does work with many Christian and church-based charities, among others, but God has used their generous hearts and creative minds to make a real difference in the areas where they have a measure of influence.
We can learn a lot from their attitude of wanting to help and their approach of starting with what they had, and developing as they had opportunity.
So what will be your next step? What do you have in your hands?