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#SoupKitchen23: What it was like helping hand out meals and gifts on Christmas Day in Sunderland

“The Soup Kitchen is a jewel in our city’s crown!” — Joanne Youngson shares her experience of handing out food and gifts to guests on Christmas Day, on what was a special day for people who otherwise may have gone without.

It was mine and Nick’s second time helping out on Christmas Day at the Soup kitchen. We didn’t tell anyone last year (because there’s always someone ready to have a pop at you no matter how good your intentions are) - so, in the early hours of Boxing day waiting for my alarm to go off for the trip to Hull I decided to write about my experience.

Watching the donations pour in for the second year in a row, I really wanted to share with people who donated where their money actually goes. Whether it’s cash, food, selection boxes, tents or hats and gloves sets… Whatever is given is used someway somehow to help the people who turn up in need.

Not wanting to sound too cheesy but these people, Andrea and the team are just astonishing. We turn up and help for three hours - the team had been there for hours beforehand cooking and will be there hours after cleaning up. Also, It’s not just Christmas, it's a daily thing, with a kitchen, a warehouse and an allotment. It’s a huge operation and Andrea is a force — no-nonsense because there’s simply no time.

The kitchen was just buzzing filled with Christmasy smells of turkey and stuffing. Everyone knew their role at each station of hot roast beef/turkey sandwiches, veg, trimmings, desserts, drinks, selection boxes even food parcels. We were under strict instructions not to scrimp, with the trimmings of pigs in blankets and roast potatoes piled high.

At this point I was just glad I hadn’t been given the potato peeling job!

As a queue was forming up the street people came in one by one, so they got that special time to interact, and choose their food and drinks. Although there are quite a few, it’s not just street homeless that get support, but also people who are on low income that are struggling. There were lots of “Merry Christmasses” and cold but happy faces as each person took their turn.

“It’s vital you give them a choice,” said Andrea, giving me my instruction on dishing out the drinks and cheesecake. Just that simple choice of what flavour item we are having is something we take for granted most days, but asking that question each time I got a full understanding of what it meant to someone who rarely has many choices in life.

Andrea and the Team know pretty much everyone who comes through that door: “Street homeless… give him an extra carton of potatoes please”, one of the team told me quietly. The thought that goes into each and every tiny detail astounded me — stuff like what can be reheated and given extra of to last them a couple of days, or cutlery and serviettes in case they’re eating on the streets, that sort of thing... amazing.

As a mum of an 18-year-old son there was one person I met that left an impression on me — a very polite well well-spoken and courteous young lad who explained he has lived on the street for a few years now. I don’t know his circumstances, but as a mum it broke my heart. I’d like to think that with the help of Andrea and the team his circumstances will change pretty soon.

Nick was giving out gift-wrapped copies of Roker Report’s SAFC:365 book to guests, and with each one handed over there was a bit of crack about football, and not surprisingly, most of the 104 people served that day supported Sunderland. Many used to go to the games in years gone by and shared a story or two from back in the day. One fella is actually a steward at the Stadium of Light and was happy to share with Nick that he saw him most match days.

Those short interactions and the sharing of memories brought a smile and a giggle every time. Football is simply wonderful at breaking down barriers. But, Sunderland is even better at breaking down barriers and helping us connect.

So, to our football community and beyond who raised that massive amount — thank you! You’re helping fellow Mackems who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances, of which none of us are immune.

The Soup kitchen is a jewel in our city’s crown!


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