Food, glorious food

by Vicki  – a Doorway volunteer

(Notes for a talk given at the Homeless Sunday Service at St Andrew’s Church  Chippenham on January 30th 2011)

Six years ago, at a similar service to this one, at the Salvation Army Citadel, I found myself saying “Yes, I could cook for 30+ guests and volunteers.”

Now the Doorway family has grown to 60+ per session, 45 guests and the rest volunteers and visitors.

On Monday mornings, Doorway provides a full breakfast, on Thursdays a hot midday meal and pudding, there is always tea and coffee ad lib.

I am part of the Thursday team of cooks. Three of us start at 8.30 am. It’s busy, but good fun working with good friends, we peel, chop, fry and boil, but also chat, laugh and sometimes sing! We share recipes and learn from each other. We have different life experiences.

We have shared the mystery of mashed potato with one of our team who has a background of Indian culture, and we eagerly await her master class in authentic vegetable curry.

We shop locally for fresh fruit and vegetables and we use tins from Harvest gifts, and seasonal produce. We are mindful of funding issues, and are always on the lookout for special offers, while maintaining high quality.

The menus are interesting with variety, we encourage comment and feedback so there is ongoing development.

Favourites include basics like cottage pie, casseroles, mash – loads of mash!  And for the more adventurous curry, chilli, lasagne, spicy potato wedges, rice. We always provide a vegetarian option.

Favourite puddings include fruit crumbles, sponge pudding, cheesecake, trifle and our speciality – Doorway Delight.

With any meal we always have to provide gravy and custard.

We try to be aware of individual needs and special requirements, for guests suffering from diabetes, allergies, sore mouths and gums (mouth problems are very common amongst our guests)

We start serving at 12:30 pm, when we can hand over to servers and cleaners.

What we do is not just provide food and nourishment, but we contribute to the invitation to come into a warm safe environment where guests can sit down and share. This actually starts outside with aromas of cooking which waft into the street.

We aim to give service with a smile, and accept guests as they are, with respect,  whether they are hungry, sad, happy or anxious.

We may note loss of appetite or sudden scraping of a plate before a rapid exit – an indication that all is not well.

We are encouraged to take a break to sit down for coffee and eat with guests. Conversation can open up with appreciative comments – “first hot meal since last week”.

We are often given compliments and constructive suggestions, only very rarely are the comments critical.

Guests’ comments may move on to memories – of family meals, Monday cottage pie, ‘my Nan’s bread and butter pudding’, pink custard on pink and yellow cake (school dinners).

From relaxed talk of food, other less tangible topics may follow – a good time to listen to anxieties and hopes and fears.

Sessions are a bit of a kaleidoscope – they may start well, but the slightest change can alter the pattern and the mood.

Seasonal treats are important too. Table decorations, brightly coloured serviettes etc. can raise a smile and be small tokens of our care. After a very tough winter, fluffy chicks and Spring flowers will lift all our spirits, not to mention the Easter biscuits and Easter eggs. We all need something to look forward to, to feel special and cared for.

Little things mean a lot.

Some of the Doorway cooks (Vicki in middle panel)

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