Wow, I think we all surpassed ourselves in so many ways tonight. 40 people came through the door and apparently 31 by 6.15pm, it must have been the smell of the cooking. On the menu, this evening was Carrot and Lentil Soup, Pork Ribs with a sticky marinade, Boston beans, Sausages and Apple Crumble and Custard. We seem to have ended up with three courses over the last two weeks. Due to the glut of food, we are getting we are trying to use as much as we can.
This week Jan has had so many carrots she reckons she is going to look for some horses to feed, we cooked some, gave a box out in the Soup kitchen last night to the clients, left some for the Foodbank session to give to their families and still had loads left. Meryl has been given an enormous crate of beautiful red peppers that will be roasted and frozen ready for soup or a pasta sauce, the supermarkets are so generous. We think the Soup Kitchen should get some culinary award, the menu tonight was fantastic. Everything was eaten and all the food from Greggs and Pret A Manger were consumed or taken away too.
One of our clients whom we spoke to last week popped in while we were setting up. They came to see Meryl thank her for sorting out a new freezer with The Community Furniture Project which was delivered on Tuesday. They arrived early and wanted to stay inside because of the cold. We use the time before each session to have a confidential briefing so we had to ask them to step outside. Whereas before this person would have been difficult and argumentative it was accepted and understood. Meryl thought how much this person has changed over the last two years, they are trying so hard to turn their life around and make better choices. They have had a horrendous upbringing and struggled with life.
The session was very busy and one of our regulars was very agitated when he came in. He was upset as he has a court appearance soon and is worried he will be going to prison. He needed lots of reassurance, especially from Jan that he was a good person. He calmed down and settled as the session went on. Sadly people such as him do not always have someone to go to court with as support. They trust so little and it takes a long time to gain that trust.
Another regular client was very drunk and loud requiring Mai-Britt and Jan to spend a long time calming and talking them down as they were very very loud and upset about a relationship. Eventually, they settled down and we got as much squash down them as so they could sober up a bit and rehydrate them. This person left much happier than when they came in. Often a person just needs to rant and let off steam to someone who will listen and support them. Again, over the two years, we have been open we have worked hard to gain the trust of our clients. We help where we can to bridge the gaps and be there when possible. If we cannot be there we try to find the help needed.
Boats and Broken Stove
Some of our clients of ours live on boats on the canal which can be very cold if they are unable to heat them properly. A client we have at present is very cold as their wood burning stove is broken so a couple of volunteers are going to meet them together next week with some sealant for their stove. Hopefully, it will be enough to fix it. In the Soup Kitchen session this evening they phoned a stove engineer and asked a few questions and between them worked out what the problem was. They are not going themselves onto the boat but again small simple gestures can go a long way into sorting a problem that can be enormous for someone else.
The Canal Trust are very supportive of the Soup Kitchen clients, we will see what else we can arrange to make their lives easier. Meryl will speak to the Canal Trust to see if I can get their 20-mile travel contract up and down the river reduced as they are vulnerable. When people live on a barge or boat and they do not have a mooring the rule is their boat has to move up to approximately 20 miles up and down the canal in a year as it is not a fixed mooring. In the past, Meryl has spoken to the Canal Trust who are very understanding to support vulnerable people with this. It people have and need a support mechanism behind them in way of charities and statutory services it makes sense to reduce that move on area to keep them near the people that help them. If people, for example, have medical needs it is important that they need to be near their doctor. We will hopefully be able to support them a bit to make their situation a bit easier.
One of our long term clients who has turned her life around and is clean from drugs now for four months (we are so proud of her) came in and Meryl saw her outside, she was so excited to come in and tell us how she was getting on.
Occasionally we have to deal with altercations between clients which often start and finish in a blink of an eye. Most of the time you get a sense when trouble is coming and can nip it in the bud, unfortunately, this time it got a bit physical. To ensure that there were no further issues Sue our Community Police Officer and Meryl went together to ask her to go home. Sue called her police colleague Matt who was on duty to pop in just in case. Sue gave this lady a firm lecture and explained the possible outcome of behaviour like that. We explained how violent behaviour like that could affect her future and her beautiful home, reiterating that she had been up until now doing so well.
We discussed that I would be banning her and why and she took that on board. She wanted to apologise to all the staff and to the innocent lady she had knocked to the floor, she said she saw red and the aggression overtook her. She was very cross with herself, embarrassed and very remorseful. Due to that Meryl and Sue did not involve the police but told her in no uncertain terms if she did assault anyone again in the Soup Kitchen we would not be so forgiving next time and that it would result in an assault charge.
One of our clients who is very kind and often taken advantage of by others has got herself in a difficult situation. She is looking after a dog for a friend and now the friend is not answering any calls. This person cannot keep the dog as she cannot afford it and she is unable to have animals in her property.
Meryl has phoned the RSPCA for advice. The dog cannot be given to them as we understand it the owner is the only person who can sign the dog over. The owner does not want to take responsibility for the dog as he cannot have it in his property because of his tenancy, he is happy however it seems to risk this persons tenancy. Often we see the same people used, exploited, taken advantage of and hounded to lend money that invariably does not come back. Vulnerable people often become a target for such behaviour and they do not often recognise it.
Meryl was on Kennet Radio on Tuesday with Chris Boulton the CEO from Greenham Trust who does a show every Wednesday morning with a charity section. The Soup Kitchen was the first charity of the year, he has a long list of local charities signed up to have a chat with him. It was good fun and Meryl enjoyed answering the questions about what we do and our plans for the future.
We are still looking for a suitable building to move into so we can expand into a Community Support Centre under the HAVEN (West Berkshire) charity. Until then the Soup Kitchen will continue as normal in the Salvation Army hall as it is now a division of HAVEN (West Berkshire). The Salvation Army is very kind and supportive to the Soup Kitchen allowing us to use their facilities.
Homelessness is not just for Christmas
Our article “A homeless person is not just for Christmas” will be in the NWN this week (letter section) and also on our website. Our Amazon Wishlist is still active this can also be found on our website. All items are desperately need are updated regularly so please keep an eye on that. At present we are in need of strong paper plates, they are on our list at present.
We were able this week to have a wonderful display of toiletries and goods for people to help themselves regardless of their situation. The generosity of the local community has been wonderful this Christmas.
The homeless people in our community struggle every day regardless of time of year. Now Christmas is over please do not forget them. We are here every week hopefully keeping their voice alive and up to date.
The continued support, belief and genuine love of what the volunteers do at the Soup Kitchen is so wonderful to witness. When something happens in the session we work so effectively as a team, together. It is a special place I know for so many.