Taking food orders in a bustling room full of laughter and somewhat alcohol fuelled guys, accompanied by occasional discordant guitar strums, it can be easy to feel like a waitress at the SU bar rather than a volunteer at the local Soup Kitchen.
Every weekend around 70 homeless or underprivileged people arrive at a nearby Church with rumbling stomachs ready to be filled with sandwiches, cakes, and yep, you guessed it… soup.
It’s the social event of the week for many of them, the lively atmosphere enhanced by the many young volunteers who attend, keen to polish their UCAS applications or just there to learn a few card tricks from the experts.
Friendships often grow between the volunteers and the homeless. Charlie for example, who lives in our local park (and who we have previously discovered used to squat in our house before we bought it!), is always keen to know how I’m getting on at school and reminds me to ‘keep at it and work hard’.
But it’s not always easy. Crowd control skills are often needed to control drunken fights or loud complaints about the food. One mentally unstable man has even been banned for bringing in a knife, whilst one of our friendly regular’s kleptomania can be witnessed through the theft of the occasional kitchen spoon or handbag.
Many are so used to life on the streets that they even refuse council housing when offered. However it can be sad to see the few young faces amongst the others who attend, who can not be much older than 18 and are hard up for food often due to drug involvement.
Christmas time can also feel sombre. The time when most of us are writing our shopping lists can be when they feel the loneliest, so festivities such as carol singing are arranged.
Volunteering at a place like the Soup Kitchen opens your eyes to how different the lives of people who exist so close to us are. It is also a lot of fun, and can feel very rewarding. As many of them go back to their makeshift beds on park benches or church corridors, you exhaustedly return back to yours, with a few new card tricks up your sleeve.