Hot soup, sandwiches and much more - Sheffield Churches Soup Kitchen - 13/09/2018
From humble beginnings 31 years ago, with a couple of volunteers walking the city at night, flasks of hot soup in hands to offer to people on the streets, the Sheffield Churches Soup Kitchen now runs from a base in the city centre behind the old Primark and feeds homeless and vulnerable people every evening. Staffed entirely by volunteers, and with all food donated by local people and businesses, the Soup Kitchen is a vital part of the wraparound support available to those in need in the city of Sheffield.
Bobbie, who started the Soup Kitchen in the city, incredibly still runs it to this day, taking charge of the Tuesday evening shift, providing sandwiches, soup, crisps, biscuits, cakes and hot drinks to around 40 people each evening. Her original ethos was to spread a message of positivity to people in need in the city, to say, “you are loved and wanted”, and that message holds true to this day.
The role of the Soup Kitchen is much more than providing food and a hot drink, its about building relationships with people, being a friendly face and a kind word in times of need, and encouraging those who use the service to access other services on offer in the city, whether that’s mental health services, drug and alcohol services, or agencies working with asylum seekers or older people who are socially isolated.
The volunteer teams who run the Kitchen each evening look out for regular faces and notice when they’ve not seen people for some time. If somebody slips off the radar they can alert services, who may know more about what’s going on in their often chaotic lives. Above all, the volunteers listen, without judgement, and are a constant presence each evening, making them an important element in supporting the most vulnerable people in the city.
To get more of an understanding about what the Soup Kitchen means to those who access it, I attended one evening to speak to service users.
My first observation which may sound obvious, was that those who use the Kitchen are clearly very hungry, devouring sandwiches and pasties at an astonishing rate, washing them down with piping hot sweet tea and coffee. Many of them had been sleeping rough, for whatever reason, so were cold and looked pretty desperate.
After those attending the Kitchen had eaten their fill, I chatted to a few people, and this is a summary of what they had to say…
‘I’m sorry love, I’m just really hungry. I come here most nights for some food, most of us do. The people who run it are great, really kind’.
‘I’ve been coming for a few years now, since it was up near West Street. I’ve got a place to stay now, but I used to be in care. At first, I felt really awkward coming here, like I didn’t deserve the food, but now I’m used to it and know everyone its much better. I like it on Wednesdays when they do jacket potatoes and stuff, but Bobbie’s sandwiches are brilliant’.
‘At some of the other places I felt like I didn’t fit in. Like, I’m not homeless or anything, so people who are homeless and have nothing they need those services more than me. I’m just struggling with things at the minute and coming here means I get some food before I go to sleep’
‘I’ve been unemployed for 18 months now and have applied for over 400 jobs. So far, nothing. I’m just about managing to make my benefits stretch but need to come here two or three times a week for some food. When I was transferred to Universal Credit I had a few weeks with no money, which I know isn’t as bad as some people, but still I had no way to support myself. I’m over 50 you know, so nobody wants to employ somebody my age.’
‘Bobbie’s been great. Whatever you need, she’ll help you get it. Like today she’s brought gloves and socks for people who need them. And duvets and sleeping bags. And she’s helped me in the past to sort out my place to stay. Helped me get a cooker and whatever I needed for my flat. It’s nice to know that someone cares that much about you when you’ve got nothing else’.
After all of the food had been eaten and the last dregs of tea drunk people began to drift away to their homes, hostels and BnB’s. The volunteers cleared the area of rubbish, reflecting on conversations they’d had that evening about how people were doing and what they were struggling with, what they may need to source to pass on to people next week. How they could help more and show more compassion and understanding.
My lasting impression was that the volunteers who run the Soup Kitchen each evening are truly amazing – bringing light to a time of darkness in the lives of those who visit each evening. Whether people have substance misuse problems, debts, mental health issues, are seeking asylum, or are socially isolated, this service makes such a difference.
To support the work of the Soup Kitchen and those accessing the service, you may wish to donate to cover emergencies that may occur with service users, or to help them to move into new or better accommodation. A small fund is used to buy clothing, small pieces of furniture, or electric goods such as fridges or cookers. To get involved in any way, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Alison Riggott, SheffGives