Good Deed for the Day? (Soup Diaries #01)

Now it’s my turn?

Interesting how things catch up with you. Many years ago when my Dad finally retired, he decided to do some voluntary work as he had plenty of time on his hands. He had not remarried after Mum died from cancer, had no mortgage and more than adequate income from maximum benefits in a final salary pension scheme – something he reminded me, that would have come in handy when we three children were growing up.

First efforts are not encouraging. The local vicar gives him a list of lonely elderly people and Dad does the rounds. Surprisingly, these visits are not appreciated giving me the impression that some people are taking the mickey. Final straw is with a father who says his son never comes to see him. The son lives next door!

Later Dad tells me that he has joined an Adult Literacy Project involving one day a week. About 5 per cent of the adult population has some form of reading problem including dyslexia and it is strange to hear stories of guys in middle age who struggle with 3 or 4 letter words. Some of them are in management making you wonder how they got there, but they survive. Hiding the reading disability is done with excuses like: they have forgotten their reading glasses.

The list of famous dyslexics is a long one including Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill & Charles Darwin while the list of dyslexic entrepreneurs is similarly distinguished with some people saying it is an advantage

Soup Kitchens

Turns out my local church participates in a range of community activities including a soup kitchen where I am told to turn up on a Sunday night at a church hall, to have a chat with the guy who runs it. We get on well and we go downstairs. First surprise is that while permanent soup kitchens keep people off the streets, mobile “soup runs” do not. Can’t say I understand this but that is what I am told by people who have been involved with homeless people for a long time. Westminster Council tried to ban soup runs in 2007. None of the 40 or so people who drop in are sleeping on the streets but they have issues including drug abuse and mental illness. Some of them apparently are well-educated, but life has given them one knock too many. All human life is there.

The evening starts with laying out the tables and cutlery. The chef starts at 6.30 pm for the opening at 7.45. Bread is sliced and maybe buttered with sauces, salt & pepper put on the tables. A huge tea urn is prepared. Normal crew is 7 people but recently there have been evenings with only 4.

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Biggest problem is how many meals? Several people may turn up at once and if late in the evening, the dish may have to be bulked out with tinned stuff which can be warmed up quickly. Sometimes there are doughnuts, filled rolls and cakes from a local bakery which are given out in the last few minutes, and are very popular. A few people come in for takeaways or may be given them if food is left over.

The soup kitchen is open 5 nights a week as there are not enough volunteers for 7. After starting on the Sunday evening, I am transferred to the Thursday team which is the busiest. Food stops at 8.30 pm and like any catering operation, cleaning is a major part of the work. Expecting to carry on over Christmas, it is a surprise to learn that we will have two weeks off as Crisis at Christmas kicks in. Final jobs are sweeping up and then mopping the floors leaving everything clean and tidy for the children’s school which will use the hall next day.

Reactions to soup kitchens in the community are interesting. “Surely we don’t need that sort of thing in this area!” is one. Marks and Spencer apparently decline to contribute food as they do not wish to give to a religious charity – very amusing as two of the volunteers are athiests. The local “church group” includes a synagogue. Some people prefer to help away from their own territory which is fine. Harvest festival church services are good for supplies.

Is it appreciated? Generally yes. In particular, one young Eastern European guy told me how moved he was at being able to get a decent meal – he was on the verge of tears when he told me.

Want to do your bit? Your local church or here would probably be the best start. Happy Christmas!

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.
  1. George Emsden
    George Emsden

    I think when somebody breaks his heart out on your shoulder for for all the best possible reasons he went to law to protect his position and he;s kept it secreta from hi good friends all that time he;s worth a few minutes.

    Genuines acse are not hard too spot. Meanwhile still keep helping old ladies across the road.

    You might do a good deead and accidentally on purpose mee y Judith 11 Pages Lane MH, wgre Doncaster boarding is a shilling a foot!

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