Volunteer Help, How Stress Affects Our Clients, And Our Wish-list

The queue was long this evening, with 48 people through the door in total. Many people left quite quickly after they had eaten and helped themselves to the supermarket donations. For some this makes a huge difference to their weekly food accessibility. We had lots of eggs this week so after we had used them for the popular potato salad and today’s dessert, it was nice to be able to give them out. It takes us 2 hours to unload, set up, prepare the food and be kitchen ready for the session. Having volunteers who can come in early to do this is paramount to get us ready in time.

This Week's Soup Kitchen

Food this week was Carrot and Cumin Soup, Sour Berry Chicken Pulao, Vegetarian Pasta, Potato Salad, Carrots cooked with orange and finally Pineapple and Cherry upside down cake with custard. It pretty much all went, we try to cater for most palates, particularly Vegetarian as we are aware that sometimes it is difficult to access vegetarian food easily when you are rough sleeping. It is important that all our volunteers who deal with food have a up to date Food Hygiene Certificate.

It can be chaos at times in the kitchen itself as it is so busy, we need three volunteers on each shift in the kitchen alone. Often, we have 10-15 people queuing up for a meal at the start – some extremely hungry.  Everyone is always respectful and patient.

It was relatively quiet for the last hour, however it means we can sit down with people and have a chat, endeavour to sort out any problems and play chess, card games etc with a little more calmness in the room.

We had a four-year-old boy, George, with his mum, Jess, pop in this evening. Meryl had to take them away from the door and talk to them outside. Due to Safeguarding policies and procedures we cannot have children and young adults in the hall during a session. George was a bit overwhelmed and would not talk, but did listen when we had a little chat about how kind he was to bring items to people who did not have a house to live in. Education is very important even at a young age. We gave out some of the items last night which went down very well. 

PTSD And Our Experiences

Tonight was good, very jovial right up until the last ten minutes. A client was in on his own happily sitting eating until his partner came in and within a couple of minutes there was a lot of swearing and a chair went over. This followed by a plate of food. His partner stormed out, she had wound him up as soon as she arrived, and he reacted badly. Three of us had cleaned the carpet on Wednesday, it looked amazing, now there is food ground into it – which is very frustrating for us. It will need another quick going over which we will endeavour to do this week coming. This is the third time now we have had an incident with these two people and the second time he has thrown food. We often have to decide on sanctions, if any, to give to people who do not behave. Many people who go into the Soup Kitchen have anxiety and PTSD. Actions and aggressive, loud outbursts from people can disturb these people hugely. After an event, if you look around the room you can visibly see other clients shaking and sometimes tearful. We expect good behaviour and have strict rules that everyone must abide by to protect everyone, clients and volunteers alike.

Complex PTSD may be diagnosed in adults or children who have repeatedly experienced traumatic events, such as violence, neglect or abuse.

Complex PTSD is thought to be more severe if: 

  • the traumatic events happened early in life 
  • the trauma was caused by a parent or carer 
  • the person experienced the trauma for a long time 
  • the person was alone during the trauma 
  • there’s still contact with the person responsible for the trauma 

As it may take years for the symptoms of complex PTSD to be recognised, a child’s development, including their behaviour and self-confidence, can be altered as they get older.

Adults with complex PTSD and severe anxiety may lose their trust in people and feel separated from others.

Reference: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/

We try however also to understand if a person’s personal situation and predicament may cause certain situations and behaviour. After this outburst this evening, Meryl and a couple of the men went outside to calm him down. He did apologise and left calmly. For some, outbursts of aggression are all they know.  People who live chaotic unpredictable lifestyles are often more likely to be volatile.  As volunteers we must have eyes in the back of our heads as something can arise in a flash, it can cause an adrenaline rush for the volunteers sometimes. We have a big responsibility to keep people safe. 

This is why our Volunteers need experience and training to help give the support and vital care our clients often need when a crisis arises. We prefer to have two first aid volunteers on each session to hopefully cover all bases and situations that come our way. 

What We Need To Help Our Clients

We hope we have sorted out the ongoing issues a client has had with his Council Tax and the bailiffs. The Council have been amazingly supportive. However, the bailiffs have been very inflexible, so we have had to work on what we can. At least there is a “Vulnerable Persons Department” at the company which we have managed to get our client onto. This means that we are at least on the understanding that this will stop the bailiffs coming to his home – which will take off a lot of his stress and anxiety. We have mentioned before that we would appreciate some Advocacy support for our clients. It is often writing letters, making phone calls, going to the Council or Job Centre, helping with form filling for benefits for example, support with sanctioning of benefits and generally explaining things that people find so complicated to understand.

We are low on storage boxes, please do look at our wish list if you can help. Due to the overwhelming generosity of the local Community over the festive period we need more storage boxes to organise ourselves better. They get quite a battering as they are hauled around and stacked up and down so much during the sessions, they don’t always last very long. We store items like socks, pants, toiletries etc in them which are requested every week. Our Wish List is updated regularly so all items are on there that are needed. At present we need men’s new Lycra boxer shorts size MEDIUM and LARGE and ladies cotton pants size 10 and 12 as we have run out.

We are aware that some people do not want to use large online companies to purchase items. That is fine too, we are happy to receive equivalent items between 4.30-5.30pm on a Thursday if that is easier, and you do not want to purchase something online. We are grateful for all help and support we receive. 

We are extremely grateful for anyone has donated towards the running of Newbury Soup Kitchen and our expansion moving forward. Donating through the Good Exchange is an easy way to do this. We are very lucky to receive MATCH FUNDING up to the value of £5,000 from Greenham Trust and Gift Aid too so this makes your donation so much more effective.

Each week we come across wonderful act of kindness from members of the public towards us and the work we do, also wonderful kindness and respectfulness from the clients we meet each week. Perceptions of people are invariably wrong.  We often have to dig deeper and always be open minded, particularly non -judgemental to gain trust and respect from people who trust and respect so few. It’s worth every moment. 

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The Newbury Soup Kitchen is division of the Haven (West Berkshire) homeless charity. Charity Number 1179298.
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