Meals for the homeless.
“A world trip behind the stove”
Isabelle Pradier is Meals for the Homeless Coordinator at Church of our Savior.
Meals for the Homeless serves a three-course hot meal to 120 homeless people in The Hague twice a month.
Meals consist of hot soup in the winter months or salad in the summer, a hot main course (with a vegetarian option) and a tasty dessert. Afterwards there is coffee or tea. Everyone leaves with a piece of fruit. All meals are prepared with healthy and fresh ingredients by different chefs. Extra gifts are given for Christmas, Easter or other special occasions (Valentine…). For example, in collaboration with the scouts or with schools, we have been able to give boxes of beautiful toiletries.
More than a meal.
In addition to tasty and healthy food, these meals have become a meeting place, where the homeless can come into contact with each other in a pleasant way and exchange information and experiences. They can also talk about their problems with the street pastor. For those who wish, there is an ecumenical service before the meal. The food that left over is packed in boxes and distributed by the street pastor to the most needy.
‘Meals for the Homeless’ is an initiative of the Church of our Saviour, the English-speaking Roman Catholic international church in The Hague. It started in 2006. The idea was to serve the homeless with a real hot meal once a month, instead of their usual cup of soup and sandwich. Due to the success of the promotion, once a month has become twice a month, every second and fourth Friday of the month. Subsequently, other organizations stepped in for the other Fridays. In the beginning, 30 to 60 people participated and now 120 guests come to eat. This maximum number is determined by the capacity of the room. If more than 120 people come, these people will receive a restaurant voucher worth 10 euros.
The core of the volunteers who come to help is formed by parishioners of Church of our Saviour. The parish is a vital support and provides a great way to communicate and recruit volunteers. Messages in the weekly newsletter keep the parishioners informed of the activities and can, if necessary, be asked for helpers. Normally, fifteen volunteers are needed for a meal at the table. One cook, with two to three other cooks helping in the kitchen, five people serving in the dining rooms, three people doing the dishes, and three people doing the final cleaning.
Meals for the Homeless works together with the Street Pastorate in The Hague and with International Schools (American School of The Hague (ASH), British School in The Netherlands (BSN), International School of The Hague (ISH)) in The Hague. Students come to help with serving and cleaning; It’s their way of making themselves useful and seeing a different side of the world. During the school year, students also organize campaign actions related to the homeless: collecting food and toiletries, cooking for the homeless, and so on.
A schedule is drawn up in consultation with the cooks about who cooks and when. A week in advance, volunteers are asked who can come and help that Friday. The schedule is sent to the volunteers the Wednesday before. Everyone receives instructions on site. The cooks do the purchasing and cook with fresh ingredients. They can use a professional kitchen on site.
Helping cook is a fun experience.
The most enjoyable side of the kitchen is the richness in the different flavours and ways of cooking depending on the nationality of the chefs. Due to the international character of the parish, the chefs are Italian, French, Irish, Native American, Colombian, and so on. There are interesting discussions and diplomatic compromises have to be made: “Parmigiano” or “Gruyère”? Cooking for the homeless becomes a journey of fun adventures and discoveries, a world trip behind the stove. The result is always an excellent dish.’
On the dining room side, the recognition of the guests is the most enjoyable aspect. Not having a roof doesn’t mean having no taste. If there is too much salt or sugar in the food they will definitely let you know and that is fine. Once a guest took the street pastor aside and said to her: “Madam, I have never, really never in my life, had such a good meal! And I can tell you, there was a time in my life when I could go to the best restaurants. Thank you!” Of course, after this conversation, the chefs are congratulated. Although doing the dishes and cleaning is less fun, the volunteers who do this work also go home with a satisfied feeling.
Despite the lockdowns over the past year and strict distance and gathering measures, Meals for the Homeless has never stopped providing meals to the homeless. Since March 2020 there are no more meals at the table (unfortunately), but takeaway bags. These bags contain a warm dish, a desert, a piece of fruit and bread.
In these corona times we work with as few people as possible. Four chefs each cook thirty portions of a main course at home. Another cook makes one hundred and twenty desserts at home. They deliver everything to the front door of the street pastor. On Friday afternoon, three people are on site. A cook heats up the meals and divides the hot dishes into one hundred and twenty plastic containers. Two other people prepare the bags. The street chaplaincy team then distributes the bags to the homeless outside. Since March 2020, Meals for the Homeless has provided more than 2,000 meals to the homeless. Both the homeless and the organizers miss the contact, the warmth of the dining room, the conviviality of a healthy and tasty meal on a table and chatting with friends. Nevertheless, all guests are happy to be able to eat hot. Everyone is looking forward to returning to the meals inside at the table.
Source: Diakonie Parochie by kind permission of Fr Sjaak de Boer MHM