Firas champions service with a smile

If you have ever dined at Sheffield’s Open Kitchen Social Club, chances are you have come across the cheery Iraqi who goes out of his way to give something back to the country he now calls home. Firas Sharefy, a founder of the club at St Andrew’s United Reformed Church on Upper Hanover Street, epitomises ‘service with a smile’. You will get more than a smile with Firas. He will greet you with a hearty laugh like you are a long lost friend. He is the same with all the guests who come through the door every Monday for some fine food. Firas, 43, is a firm believer in the social side of the group that he formed with Katelyn McKeown and Ian Nesbitt in May 2014. Early on, they used the Regather Trading Co-Operative off London Road as their base, before moving to the larger space of the church hall. Volunteering at the kitchen has given Firas and insight into the culture of his adopted homeland, but it has opened his eyes to other nationalities, too. “When you start to mix with these multicultural backgrounds, you have to learn their culture as well,” the Gresley Road, Lowedges resident said. The club has unlocked something every potential guest has in common: They all need to eat. “Every single person, whatever you are,” Firas said. “You background, your age, your culture, your language, you need food to survive. It’s the key to bringing everyone together.” Using food, and the odd game of chess or table tennis in the hall, Firas and the volunteers slowly find out about their guests’ stories. Most of the time, he said, even the introverted ones open up. Asylum seeker Firas has lived in Sheffield for eight years and it only took ‘about two or three months’ before he donated his time to some volunteer organisations in the city. “I went to Voluntary Action Sheffield and said ‘I’ve got free time’. I didn’t want to just sit at home doing nothing,” he said. “When you give something to others, you feel you are useful. This is the purpose of life.” He is passionate about making refugees and asylum seekers feel welcome. Firas is a trustee of the City of Sanctuary, helping co-ordinate a drop-in session every Wednesday at Victoria Hall on Norfolk Street. On Thursdays, you will find him at the Citizens Advice Bureau on Spital Hill. Firas is happy with his new home. “It’s really nice,” he said. “It has got variety. It’s multicultural, and has mostly friendly people.” The benefits of living on the edge of the picturesque Peak District are obvious for someone from such a vastly different landscape. “I love cycling. The view is fantastic,” he said.

To read more about Firas and the work he does, click HERE to a recent local newspaper article about him.