Providing hot food, a listening ear and hope to town’s most vulnerable

Observer chief reporter Maria Hudd with Hope Kitchen volunteers
Observer chief reporter Maria Hudd with Hope Kitchen volunteers

Have you ever woke up in the morning and wondered where your next meal would come from?

Fortunately, for most of us, the answer would be ‘no’. For most of us, being able to put food on the table is a routine part of our day-to-day lives. What we consider a basic human right is a challenge and a source of much worry for those living on the streets.

Observer chief reporter Maria Hudd with Hope Kitchen volunteers

Observer chief reporter Maria Hudd with Hope Kitchen volunteers

For the homeless and vulnerable in our society, food is just one of the things that is hard to come by. Another thing, is hope – hope of a better future, hope for a light at the end of the dark tunnel, and hope for a helping hand of comfort and support.

That’s where Hope Kitchen comes into the fore.

The charity is a soup kitchen in Hastings town centre, which serves the homeless, the insecurely housed and the vulnerable in our community, including those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction.

Hope Kitchen was formed in November 2005 when a local doctor, church minister and retired teacher came together with a vision for the local church to help meet the needs of the homeless.

After a pilot project distributing soup and rolls to those living on the streets at night, the need for a dry, warm and safe place to serve the food became apparent. A few months later, the soup kitchen was established in the basement of Wellington Square Baptist Church, where it still takes place today.

As part of the Observer series’ Hope for the Homeless campaign, we are raising awareness of the many charities and organisations in the town working to support the most vulnerable in the area. So, last Thursday evening, I paid a visit to Hope Kitchen to learn about the valuable service it provides.

It was a bitterly cold night, as so many of them have been so far this year. From just the walk from my car to the church, the feeling was lost in my fingers and toes, and my cheeks stung with the bite of the icy seafront winds.

I was only outside for ten minutes – nothing compared to those sleeping on our streets, who are outdoors for hours on end, and through the night when temperatures dip to their lowest point.

That was the first, most welcoming aspect of Hope Kitchen – the warmth and the shelter from the wind.

That warm welcome was matched by the volunteers, many of whom are from churches across the town.

They take on a number of roles, including security; serving the soup and sandwiches; making the drinks; or just sitting with those who have visited Hope Kitchen, lending a listening and understanding ear.

This last part is equally as important and valued by those who attend. A recent survey conducted by Hope Kitchen asked what would those who use the service miss most if it wasn’t available. The answer was the company, the chance to share their stories and concerns to a non-judgemental audience. It is a simple thing, but to those who are often so marginalised by society, it means the world.

That’s just one of the ways in which Hope Kitchen is so much more than just a soup kitchen. As well as serving hot meals and drinks, it also provides items such as sleeping bags, warm clothing and toiletries to those in need.

It works closely with other organisations in the town, including Hastings Borough Council, Seaview and Homeworks, to offer grants towards rental deposits for those who are serious about improving their lifestyle.

On top of that, every Saturday night, a nurse from the St John Ambulance homeless service attends Hope Kitchen to address any health concerns raised by the individuals present.

Hope Kitchen is such a valuable service in a town like Hastings. On the one Thursday night I was there, 27 people came to enjoy a hot meal and some conversation. This number was perhaps slightly lower than usual as well, while the town’s night shelter is still in operation.

At the end of what was an enlightening and humbling evening, the group came together to pray and share any findings from the session.

One volunteer shared a heartwarming success story after being visited by a young man who he had helped at Christmas. The man was now working and beginning to turn his life around thanks, he said, to the support he received from Hope Kitchen.

And that, for me, summed up what charities like this are all about – it is helping people, no matter what their circumstances, get on track for a better, and safer, future.

Hope Kitchen is open from 7.30pm to 9pm Thursday and Saturday evenings via the side entrance of Wellington Square Baptist Church, Albert Road. Hope Kitchen is always on the look-out for new volunteers. To get in touch, call George on 07931 587349. To donate to Hope Kitchen, text ‘ACTS11’ followed by the amount (either £1, £2, £5 or £10) and send to 70070.

Visit http://www.hopekitchenhastings.org.uk/index.html for more information.

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