I’m in charge? My turn to open up the Soup Kitchen (Soup Diaries #07)

Can you help?

Early April and I am back on the rota for the soup kitchen, after a digital break putting the group on various social networks and downloading images to make the sites more attractive. The soup kitchen is apparently not swamped with people as I heard, so it’s one or two days a month for me which is manageable.

Can I do Bank Holiday Monday as the lady who normally does that night is away on holiday? Quick check with the family shows nothing planned for that weekend so I am given the keys and detailed emailed instructions.

Opening up at 6.30pm leads me into the kitchen where the usual chef has left more instructions. The previous night is a record with 58 souls fed, but still quite a bit of food left over and plenty of cake for dessert. Slight panic here. Am I supposed to cook the veg/rice/pasta to go with the almost defrosted pork stew? 7 pm and the bell announces the arrival of a second volunteer, who gets on with this. As usual for this soup kitchen, soup is not on the menu.

It’s a Long List

My list includes crucially, switching on the new dishwasher which “takes forever” to warm up and the hot water urn. Doors unlocked inside and lights on, two more volunteers turn up and we have the minimum crew of four. No one seems sure how many might turn up later, so it’s a phone call to the organiser who says he will pop down on his motorbike later. Now it’s time to set out six tables with six chairs at each plus a couple of extra ones just in case.

The tea urn needs to be warmed up too with three kettlefulls of boiling water, so the guests don’t get cold tea. There is not enough sugar although we might be able to manage with Icing Sugar, of which there is one packet. This problem solves itself 20 minutes later when the second volunteer pops round to Waitrose to get two bags. Wholemeal bread is being sliced and buttered in generous portions but surprise surprise, someone asks later if we have any white bread.

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Ten minutes to go and it’s make the tea time with 24 tea bags, lugging the full urn out to its table with a drip tray underneath. Once the guests sit down, it’s time for a short prayer of thanks and then out go 23 meals on two trolleys. More arrive and as usual, there are requests for take aways. A few regulars are still there but a couple of new guys, one with a huge rucksack stroll in and queue up for tea. Unusually, there is no vegetarian option. One guest has plain rice, most plates come back clean and the bread disappears quickly. Once the plates are being brought back, it’s time to start loading the dishwasher which has a cycle time of 4 minutes. Now we have five volunteers and the organiser turns up too, but everything is running smoothly so he does not stay long.

Some Like it Hot

As usual dessert is the most popular, but some are hot and some are cold so there are mild moans about people wanting a hot one rather than a cold one. Whatever the temperature, the desserts disappear quickly and guests start leaving. It’s nice when the new guys say thank you, and most guests are happy with our service. One or two want their thermos flasks filled with hot water or tea, and one guy would like some milk to take away, but doesn’t have a container. We give him this in a large two litre container, the only spare one we have.

Dishes are coming back quickly now and the dishwasher is kept busy. Luckily, the church hall which is used as a nursery in the daytime is closed the next day, meaning we do not have to put the chairs and tables away saving us a lot of work and making up for the small crew. We are supposed to have 7 volunteers, but manage very well with 5. After worrying about running out of rice, some is thrown away with more left over. 43 souls are fed, pretty much the average number. One guy won’t be here next month as he will be in Africa for his holiday, but we will manage.

We are out at 9pm and I am home at 9.15. Time for a beer…

Fancy volunteering yourself? Probably best to start at your local church or google volunteering with your locality name.

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.