Every year, we sit down for a chat with Andrea Bell, the founder and driving force behind the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen, to find out what she and the volunteers down at Albert’s Place, the food bank and the Community Allotment have been up to, and it’s always an emotional experience.
Your donations to the Roker Report Christmas Appeals over the last few years have raised over £150,000 and counting to help this charity grow and to meet the ever-expanding needs of those facing poverty in our city. As Andrea told Gav earlier this month:
It’s all spent local, it’s all ploughed back into what we do. It gives us opportunities to do more. We’re more than just a Soup Kitchen. We help people get relocated to new homes - all sorts has been able to be done just because we’ve had the support of the public.
When Gav visited Albert’s Place, the takeaway service located in the old butchers’ shop on High Street West, he spoke to a couple of people who had popped in to get a hot nutritious meal, cooked and served with love and a smile.
Their stories were of the rising bills and increased prices in the shops and of their wages and benefits not lasting long enough.
The largest group of new customers at the Soup Kitchen are working people - people with loans and mortgage repayments to meet and who need to fill their cars to get to and from their jobs - who’ve told Andrea that they’re simply ‘chuckied to the hilt’.
These are proud people and they’re often embarrassed to ask for support, but this crisis is not of their making.
Many are coping with the ongoing financial impact of Covid-19, when furlough meant a 30% wage cut and when statutory sick pay was barely enough to keep poorly people afloat.
In the post-pandemic economy, ordinary people are living precariously, as Andrea highlighted:
People are still paying off things from when they were on shorter money or on shorter hours and it’s having a complete knock-on effect. One slight change - no overtime that they’ve relied upon - something changes and they’re coming to see us.
Another massive impact of the recession and inflation has been the reduction in the level of donations the Soup Kitchen has received throughout the year.
The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) reported this week that four million fewer people in the UK donated to charity this November, compared to the same time last year.
The fear and the reality of the economic downturn and the fall in the value of wages and benefits is felt in stark terms by Andrea and her team:
Everybody, when you talk to people, they’re just scared. They don’t know what the future holds. They’re hanging onto every penny - even a tin of beans - they are having to think about themselves. There’s been a downturn for us, people who want to help can’t help any more.
They’ve recently put in bids for three grants and have been rejected for every single one.
Perhaps it’s the lack of any criteria or referral system, because the model the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen operates is open, respectful, dignified, and available to anyone who asks.
There’s no means test, no measurement, no targets or tracking of outcomes- just full bellies and warm bodies. And so they remain independent, beholden to the priorities of the people in need in our city rather than the priorities of the people in Whitehall or City Hall.
That’s why your donations and support are more crucial now than ever before.
The Soup Kitchen team will always make sure that people they assist at the foodbank are not missed by the rest of the system
We are one city where you can always get food. I vowed that anyone can get food, and they can get food now. I don’t always say yes the first time. They have to go through the council system because I don’t want figures masked.
I don't want figures hidden from what they problem is. If you hide the figures you’re not going to get change.
The Roker Report Christmas Appeal brings together the Sunderland Family - current and former players, current and former managers and coaches, current and former owners - who’ve all chipped in alongside hundreds of supporters.
The Fans Museum has chipped in, the Sock Council have chipped in, the Sunderland Echo and the BBC have chipped in, and there’s still time for you to chip in, too.
Help us by sharing the Soup Kitchen Appeal
- Click here to share our donation link on your WhatsApp groups
- Click here to share our donation link on Twitter using #SoupKitchen22
- download and print a Soup Kitchen poster for your school, workplace, community centre, cafe, or shop.