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Coronavirus: Soup kitchen to expand service to help those self-isolating

PUBLISHED: 14:54 16 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:09 16 March 2020

Organiser Martin Stone (right) and volunteers at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen on Sunday, March 15. Picture: André Langlois

Organiser Martin Stone (right) and volunteers at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen on Sunday, March 15. Picture: André Langlois

André Langlois

A north London soup kitchen has become a takeaway in light of the coronavirus pandemic – and organisers hope it can help more people as they self-isolate.

Volunteer Rebecca Fernando. Picture: André LangloisVolunteer Rebecca Fernando. Picture: André Langlois

Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen has called for donations of cartons and bottles of drinks, as well as items in small single-serve packs which can be given out in takeaway bags. Items can be dropped off during the day at Muswell Hill Baptist Church, where the soup kitchen is based.

The group serves meals Sunday to Thursday and organiser Martin Stone says he expects demand to grow.

Up until this week the soup kitchen operated as a restaurant, with people able to take a seat, have chat, listen to some live music and eat their meal.

But in light of the spread of the virus, volunteers are now handing out pre-packed bags of prepared food.

Martin said: “We’ve got a roast lamb meal with sandwiches and a fork and everything, and we want an interaction with them to see what emergency supplies they might need, which we could put in the bag. Then we have chairs so they can sit down and chat, so there’s no transference with cups, no handling of food. That’s all new to us.”

If guidelines change further, the service will leave takeaway bags outside the church for people to collect.

The kitchen at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen. Picture: André LangloisThe kitchen at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen. Picture: André Langlois

Martin said: “The big thing that’s changed is that this wonderful facility is open to the community. So people get in contact with us through Next Meal – just email in to say there’s a need, send a representative along.”

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If anyone is self isolating and finds they need the service, they should email martin.stone@nextmeal.co.uk and explain the situation. Then a friend, neighbour or family member can come and collect a meal from the soup kitchen the next day.

On Sunday there were fewer people using the service than normal, perhaps down to rumours of it being closed and bad weather putting them off taking the chance on it being open. But Martin is also the man behind nextmeal.co.uk – a website which provides current information about where nearby soup kitchens can be found – and he is keen hat as many people make use of it as possible in these difficult times.

One of Muswell Hill’s regulars is Monty, who has been visiting for just over six months and normally enjoys the live jazz. That has stopped for now and this week recorded music was piped in.

Though grateful for the meal, he said: “It’ll be takeaway – how long for? I’ve been coming here since about May or June last year and it’s been sitting down. I miss all that.”

Takeaway meals at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen. Picture: André LangloisTakeaway meals at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen. Picture: André Langlois

Rebecca Fernando, 33, who works in advertising but volunteers at the soup kitchen, said: “This is the first time [it’s a takeaway service]. I’m used to it being lively, bustly, everyone chatting and talking. There’s normally someone on piano and double bass. We’ve got the soup station set up and the guys will come up with their bowls etc and we’ll serve them with their food, which is really nice, and we have a nice chat over tea.

“They’re just really friendly people – that’s the nicest thing.”

She said the service’s users seem to be aware of what is happening with coronavirus and “respectful” of the changes the soup kitchen has made.

Martin said: “How does a soup kitchen cope with the fact that people aren’t self-isolating? You can still provide a service and that’s what we’re trying to do. Eventually if restaurants close down we’re going to put this outside and they can just come, take and go.”

He said the aim is to try to work out ways to sustain homeless people who “are in trouble” if they get ill on the street as they’are already more vulnerable for a number of reasons.

Visit mhbc.org.uk/soup-kitchen for the soup kitchen and spread the word about nextmeal.co.uk

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