Volunteers at the Sunderland Soup Kitchen were joined by Sunderland men and ladies managers Lee Johnson and Mel Reay
In a corner of Sunderland, there is a group of people you’d be lucky to have near if you fell on hard times.
The people behind Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen have been helping people in the city most in need of help for almost three years.
I went along to meet some of the hard-working people behind the project at their warehouse.
It is obvious almost immediately that each and every one are some of the most caring and compassionate people around.
Andrea Bell is the co-ordinator at the kitchen.
She told NationalWorld all about what it takes to keep the project going, and how it wouldn’t be possible without the fantastic team.
“The food we give out is home grown, homely warm food using really good ingredients just because we know the people who come can’t afford things like this,” Andrea said.
“People have zero hour contracts and uncertain employment. We help a lot of people who are like this, where sometimes they have work and sometimes they don’t.
“If people turn up for food we don’t ask them why they are here, we just ask ‘what would you like’. It’s very dignified.
“If a person is going to stand in a queue of sometimes 60 people for food, then that shows they are hungry. They stand out in all weather, so why would we scrutinise them? They just want food.”
One of the biggest issues with those who come for food is wanting someone to talk to, as Andrea added: “One Sunday I went there and we had some people queuing up an hour early and I asked them why they’d turned up so early.
“Some of them hadn’t spoken to anyone all day so when they were in the queue they will be able to have a chat with others. It could be the only conversation they have all day.
“Loneliness is a huge issue, and this is more than just about food.
“This place started as a little idea in ‘Daisy’ [the takeaway van] and it got pinched on the first day.
“My whole world ended then. A huge social media campaign was started to find it and it worked. It was found but it had been completely stripped out, but we got it back on the road again thanks to some help.
“We soon outgrew the van, so we got a little church to work out of and we outgrew that.
“Now, we have this place just for storing anything and everything. We’ve got flasks to help get people through the cold weather.
“We’re planning on going out with just hot water and cuppa soups that way, with the flasks, it’s all ready.
“Food wise, we’re not a huge food bank. This is mainly for families. When they come here, they get a trolley and pick what they need and go home with about 10 bags full.
“These families are going to go two or three weeks with the items they have here, they won’t get far with just one bag.
“We’ve got carrots and potatoes here and stock pots that we can give out for people to make soups so a batch can be made to make more than one meal.
“All of this is possible because of the great team we have here. If Carlsberg made teams, it would be this team.
“Everyone needs a hand up at some point in life, and we are just one facility which gives that hand when people need it.
“We’ll give people little tips on how to make a meal like ‘if you add the pasta in with the meatballs you can make something lovely’. It’s just things like this which show people that they are important and show them that you care.
“We’ve only got two paid workers and that’s from nearly three years in existence. Every single one of us had worked for free. Everyone here does it with their heart.
“There’s nearly 60 of us here.
“We’ve also got two allotments, we are really excited to get started with this. The storms damaged things we’d built but everything is reparable and nobody was hurt, which is the most important thing.
“In my little vision, I’d love to become a centre for edible flowers that are used in cooking. At the moment, we are growing pink blueberries and yellow raspberries as we want people to be able to try different things.
“We’ve got the warehouse, the allotments, the clothes service, the takeaway and now we are selling furniture and this money comes back into our work.
“We do garage sales, we did two last year and these combined made about £2,800 just because people want to support us.
“It costs us £5,000 a month for food, but thanks to the fundraiser we’ve got that little bit more to spend.
“Everything is ticking along nicely, it’s extremely hard work but so worth it. We had this little acorn and, as you can see, it’s grown into this big tree.
“It’s only possible because of everyone here. I’ve got the big ideas but they wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have all these people.
“The kitchen, before we took it over, was a butcher’s shop and it was a mess. There was blood up the walls and everything.
“It took three industrial cleans and three Covid cleans, so six in total, to get it up to a standard where you could cook in the kitchen.
“It was an empty shell with a walk-in freezer and nothing else. Just an empty room.
“We spoke to a company about it and they gave us a free kitchen and we got everything so it’s easy to move if we ever moved out.
“The kitchen cost us £42,000 and it’s all paid for, it just shows what you can do when you put your mind to it.
“From a small kitchen in the church to this ginormous kitchen with lots of space is phenomenal.
“There’s no big signage saying ‘Soup Kitchen’ . We changed the name to Alberts and we have different hoodies that we wear there.
“This is so it looks like you’re going to a takeaway and not to a soup kitchen.”
Andrea showed me around the back of the warehouse building and two rooms that are to play a vital role in the work they do.
“We’re going to set up a health hub here. We’ve got a hairdresser, podiatrist, manicurist and dentist are all going to come in for free to provide care.
“We’ve got a kitchen and a boardroom upstairs which has been done thanks to hard work and some generous donations.
“You won’t fall asleep in here,” Andrea turned on the lights in the purple and green boardroom.
I have never been made to feel more welcome in a spot in my entire life.
The people who help the soup kitchen tick are some of the nicest and kindest people you could ever wish to meet, and the work they put in helps to restore any faith in humanity that you may have lost.
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