Soup run is serving up some seasonal goodwill

By Jessica Elgot, December 15, 2011
Homeless people queue for soup at the Simon Community's van

Homeless people queue for soup at the Simon Community's van

Carrying vats of homemade tomato soup and hundreds of rolls, soup run volunteers head out into some of London's most expensive streets to feed the capital's poorest people. It is the kind of activity Jewish volunteering charities are keen to get community members involved in during the festive period, when many have time to spare.

Volunteers with the Simon Community go out twice a week to Marylebone, Aldwych and Waterloo, handing out hot soup, tea and coffee and sandwiches to the homeless and impoverished. Recipients are generally quiet and polite, engaging in small talk with the volunteers in the back of the delivery van, who ladle the soup into polystyrene cups.

Some recipients are groups of Eastern Europeans, where one generally communicates in halting English for the rest of the group.

A few women come for a warming cuppa, often watched protectively by a male companion. One elderly lady in a headscarf and carrying a golf umbrella fills her bag with sandwiches, which she gives to poor people in her area.

In some cases, beneficiaries have made their way from the outskirts of London, not just for the food, but for the company of familiar volunteers.

One man in a red waterproof arrives at the soup stop near Aldwych and then walks to meet the volunteers at their next stop near the National Theatre. He enjoys the conversation.

Who can say they can’t come out for three hours a month?

Esther Marlow from Hendon volunteers with the Simon Community via Tikun, which runs a volunteering programme over Christmas and the New Year - Light Up A Life. A single mother-of-two who is financial director of a clothing company, Ms Marlow observed that many of the volunteers "don't have much themselves. Everyone is busy, whether they are a stay-at-home mum or a high-powered businessman. But I came out for three hours this month. Who can say they can't do that?

"Sometimes you see older people out in the dark and rain, queuing for food, and you think: 'How can this happen?' An old lady queuing for food cannot possibly fill in a 19-page form to get what she is entitled to."

Directing operations on the street is long-time volunteer Cynthia Jameson, now vice-chair of the charity. "People come from all walks of life," she said. "I'm an engineer.

"Some volunteers are ex-homeless people. Many people come regularly. You get so much out of it if you know the people. We also run a street café on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It can be 120 people at one stop. It can be chaotic. People think they are unsavoury, all drug addicts. Actually many are really lovely people. But new volunteers are often quite intimidated."

Last updated: 11:32am, December 15 2011