Soup-er effort sees soupie mark 24 years
THERE are a host of complex reasons people can end up sharing a table at Coffs Harbour's Uniting Church Soup Kitchen but the thing that unites them is their appreciation of the service.
Tomorrow the Soupie, as it is affectionately known, will be feted at a church service to mark its 24th anniversary.
Joan Howlett has been there for 22 of those years.
This week The Advocate spent a lunchtime at the Soupie, talking to patrons and discovering how Joan and fellow volunteers have turned simple food into a valued family meal for the city's needy.
Hovering about and making sure everyone is comfortable, Joan Howlett talks to all comers and, along with the other volunteers, makes everyone who walks through the door welcome.
For Tina, who has been on a Housing New South Wales waiting list for more than 10years and sporadically sleeps rough, the Soupie is hugely important.
"We really love this place, the people are beautiful and it really gives us something to look forward to," Tina said.
"When I'm in between housing there's nowhere to stay, it's lovely the Department of Housing can help us out for a month sometimes but there's nowhere to go after that."
Most of the time Joan said she knows who's sleeping rough, who has accommodation and workers even know how regulars take their tea.
"People like Richard can have a place to live in caravan parks or backpackers but they just get pushed out at holiday times when bigger payers are in town," Joan said.
"I know the history of quite a number of people because they come here regularly."
The Soupie provides more than just a lunchtime meal, with many of its patrons agreeing the company is as important as the food.
Keith has been eating at the Soupie for a couple of years and said the place helped him feel like he belonged in society again. A string of bad luck has meant he's gone from working six or seven days a week to surviving week to week.
"When I started coming I was pretty low, I hurt my back then lost my job and had to go on a pension," he said.
"It made me feel worthwhile that there were people willing to help me here.
"Everyone does a good job, probably better than a restaurant a lot of the time."
As well as donations of ring-pull canned food that is distributed during the lunch service, Joan said the Soupie is always in need of blankets.
"People that don't have accommodation often don't have blankets. Couch surfers may have somewhere to sleep but no blankets."
The Soupie is behind Coffs Central in Gordon St.