Fewer Hands make Light Work (Soup Kitchen Diaries #10)

Quantity versus Quality

After missing 2 weeks, it is time to open up at 6pm but lights in the church hall are on and new chef Anthony has things well in hand. A huge pot of lovely vegetable soup is bubbling away while a new assistant, currently unemployed but who obviously knows his stuff, is busy chopping onions when I arrive – turns out he is also a professional chef. On being informed that everything is “switched on” a quick check of the dish washer shows a blinking light indicating no water in the machine. Switch it off, switch it on again and hey presto! water spurts up from the whirling blades showing we are in business or soon will be. Thank heaven my advice to change the filter in this machine has been heeded.

The water for the tea urn is heating up nicely, so time to start warming up 10 kettles of boiling water preheat the urn, so the tea for the guests will be nice and hot when they arrive.

Tea for the Troops

Time also to “put the kettle on”

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and make tea for the troops. The doorbell rings and a volunteer from HandsonLondon turns up. Like his predecessors, he is from the City, uses his initiative and does what he is told on the rare occasions when I suggest something needs doing. He first turned up two weeks ago on my first day off, so I hardly have to tell him anything. With Anthony’s new assistant busy chopping onions and opening umpteen cans of tuna, he is put to work buttering and slicing three loaves of bread.

Pro versus Amateur

The huge saucepan of pasta is ready and this is put into two huge baking trays for the oven. What a difference having a professional or now, two professionals makes! While yours truly could cook a meal for 50 (something that would have terrified me a year ago) my culinary abilities are no match for the new guy. Pasta in the two huge  trays, tuna mixed in, grated cheese on top and in the pre-heated oven for 15+ minutes Рlovely! Another volunteer has turned up so the tables, chairs and dining places are being set out. Chef tells me at 7.15pm that food will be ready to serve in 15 minutes.

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The doorbell rings and our regular veggie guy asks if he can wait inside as it is cold. “What’s on the menu tonight?” he asks. Veggie soup and tuna pasta. “Can I have a veggie pasta with loadsa olive oil?” I check with chef, “we don’t have any olive oil!” When we finally open the doors to the dining room at 7.30pm, 15 minutes earlier than our usual time, he gets his veggie soup and tuna baked pasta like everyone else and tucks in – the meal is very good.

More help arrives

Just as we start serving, a young lady arrives – hooray. For only the third time in a year, we are actually serving soup at the soup kitchen. Each serving has a bowl of veggie soup and the baked tuna pasta. There is plenty of buttered bread plus doughnuts which we keep for later. BUT we are two people short with twice as much washing up to do – a bowl for the soup and a dinner plate for the pasta.

An Apple a Day keeps the Doctor Away

Checking the overflowing pantry again reveals a huge box of apples which are unlikely to keep very well until next soup kitchen night on Sunday. These are washed by yours truly but only eaten when taken round to the tables. Good to know that the guests haven’t lost their sense of humour. On mentioning the above saying “An apple a day….” one guest replies “An onion a day keeps other people away!”

No problem giving out the several boxes of doughnuts cup cakes and cookies from the fridge which seem to levitate off the plates when we offer them later on.

More help arrives – again

Just as dishes are coming back and being batched into the dishwasher, another helper who usually helps with the heavier cleaning arrives, freeing yours truly up to circulate more. Our resident artist Thomas Hogan who usually does portrait sketches for the guests has also arrived, and is helping stacking the chairs and tables. Chef goes home, and those of us left clear away and are able to leave before 9pm. Other evenings with more helpers have sometimes seen yours truly only leaving well after this time.

In quieter moments, our HandsonLondon helper prepares 30 take away meals resulting in the usual overall total of 65ish meals served but only around 30 sit-down meals. Well after 8.30pm with only one guest left who is enjoying a second mug of tea, a big guy rushes in “Any food?” he asks. It’s his lucky day and is given two take-away meals.

For most of the evening we manage with five people when the crew is supposed to be seven and on other evenings can be ten or more. But all is done, all cleaned up and put away 30 minutes earlier than I would have dared expect. Shows what a good small crew can do – well done guys.

Soup Kitchen Diaries #09 I’d rather call you Chef!

George Emsden
Now retired, George is busier than ever: working through an OU Maths & Physics degree, blogs, volunteering at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen and Haringey Winter Shelter plus being a very proud granddad.