The Covid-19 crisis has changed our lives immeasurably as the freedom we took for granted every day is traded-off for staying at home to try and stop the spread of this virus. Strange is the new normal. For now.
And all of this is absolutely fair enough. But what is really important right now is to keep our thoughts and fears in some sort of perspective, however this is much easier said than done.
So when I asked Helen Anthony from Soul Kitchen Chester for a virtual interview, I read her responses to my questions with a lump in my throat. These volunteers go about their selfless business very quietly in this city, and I hope I have represented them properly in this story about how they go about their crucial work every day of the week, feeding Chester’s homeless.
Helen Anthony started volunteering with Soul Kitchen Chester four years ago when they were feeding a small number of homeless people in the underpass of Mecca Bingo. There are now three people coordinating the organisation with about 30 volunteers. Soul Kitchen is 100% voluntary with no paid positions.
Soul Kitchen describe themselves as a non-judgmental group who provide food and support to everybody who needs it. Helen says that the amount of homeless people in Chester has risen over the past few years and Soul Kitchen has evolved into much more than a soup kitchen.
This dedicated team provides much more than food to everyone in need of support, with a Summer walking group, Offset – for those in recovery who want to escape the negative influences of the city, a weekly cookery group Soul in a Bowl, which takes place in a local hostel encouraging the preparation and cooking of nutritious and budgeted communal meals, and a football team Soul Survivors – who train weekly and take part in a Homeless league in Liverpool.
I asked Helen what more could be done to reduce homelessness in any city, and she advised me that homelessness is an extremely complex issue and includes lack of social housing, people suffering with mental health issues and addiction. It is not something that can be solved or eradicated over-night unfortunately. Every case is individual, every person is an individual with their own support needs. That support – in many instances – needs to be wrap-around support for the most complex individual cases.
Soul Kitchen Chester partner with some pretty successful restaurants. Helen told me that three of the restaurants have been supporting them prior to the coronavirus outbreak (The Suburbs, Sticky Walnut and Meltdown). Laura at Meltdown has been running a Pay It Forward scheme from her restaurant for a couple of years now and brings either food plus much-needed items like toiletries and underwear.
Gary Usher from Sticky Walnut tweeted the idea of restaurants supporting Soul Kitchen one night a week and it snowballed from there. Soul Kitchen now has 11 restaurants offering their support. In turn, local suppliers have been supporting the restaurants too – as have members of the public and local community groups – Hoole allotments provide their excellent rhubarb for example.
Other local charities and community groups such as SHARE are also providing support and there is a great deal of meaningful collaboration in the city.
Helen added that the Covid -19 outbreak is incredibly dangerous for those who are homeless. Initially, they had nowhere to self isolate, but thankfully that issue has now been resolved and all are housed temporarily in either hostels or hotels. Many of those who are homeless have underlying medical conditions due to poor lifestyle/diet – and are therefore much more at risk if they catch the virus. It is vitally important that we all try and keep them as safe as possible.
I am so pleased that I have found out more about these wonderful, unsung heroes in our city. Other restaurants working with Soul Kitchen include Joseph Benjamin, Da Noi, Covino, Chefs Table, Death by Tacos, Atina Kitchen, Chip’d and Sweet Elements. If you would like to offer your support to Soul Kitchen Chester, drop them a message on their Facebook page.
This is a fabulous and dedicated organisation making a real difference in our community, and I would like you all to join me in celebrating them now and when the crisis has passed.