Hunger has reached 'epidemic' proportions in Sunderland, says soup kitchen founder who provides free food every day

The founder of a new soup kitchen says the level of people going hungry in Sunderland should be classed as an 'epidemic'.

Sunday, 25th August 2019, 8:00 am

Many see it as a basic human right, but hundreds of people are going hungry in Sunderland every day.

When founder of the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen, Andrea Bell, pulled together a team to provide fresh, free food to the people in the city who would otherwise go without she never expected the overwhelming need for the service.

Andrea says hunger in the city is at an 'epidemic' level and more needs to be done to prevent a growing crisis.

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Andrea Bell, founder of the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen

"We need a solution, there has to be something that can tackle this problem," said Andrea.

“I think there has to be some scheme where there has to be a provision for people that don’t have food and I think whatever we have at the minute is inadequate."

Soup kitchen volunteers, who are based out of Emmanuel Free Church and a food truck on Hudson Road, say between 60 and 80 people come for their evening meal every night.

Serving up jacket potatoes, soup and hot meals like curry and pasta, the compassionate team of volunteers are dedicated to ensuring everyone in Sunderland who needs food gets it.

Volunteers who run the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen. Picture: Tom Banks

“We have queues every night here. They go away happy, the morale is different we’ve had different support organisations come back to us and say what a difference it has had on the people attending,” says Andrea, who lives in Sunderland.

“It’s nothing but a good thing and it’s only putting food in their mouths.

“We’ve had families bring their children to the soup kitchen in the middle of all of this. Sometimes the people here are vulnerable and have issues but families are still bringing their children here because they have nowhere else to turn.

“The stories are really sad. I don’t know whether people have maybe brushed it under the carpet or don’t see it as their problem, there are really really hungry people here in Sunderland - there needs to be a solution.”

The soup kitchen is the first seven-days-a-week service to provide free food to Sunderland’s hungry.

What users had to say about the soup kitchen?

One man, who asked not to be named, was using the kitchen for the fourth time when he spoke to the Echo. He said: “To know that no matter what you’ve been through that day you can get a hot meal is amazing.

“It’s made a huge impact on people and given people a boost in morale.

“The volunteers that are here every night are amazing – to know people care enough to dedicate their time, it’s nice. They’re doing it off their own backs.”

Another man said: “It feels great to be able to come down here and get fed.

“If I lived in Newcastle I’d be able to get fed every night because they have so many different facilities. There isn’t the same thing here in Sunderland.”

Another user said: “I don’t think people recognise there’s a hunger problem in Sunderland. I think there’s a difference between knowing something and recognising it as a problem.

“I think a lot of people will think it’s not their issue – that’s what makes the volunteers here so special.”

Volunteer who turned his life around

James Birdsall, 30, lives in Sunderland, said: “Five months ago I was a raging drug addict, I lost my family, everything, through it.

“Because of Andrea and the team at the soup kitchen, they’ve helped me through it, Wear Recovery plus probation everyone has helped me out.

“Now I’ve been clean all together of alcohol for a month, been clean from cannabis for five months and crack cocaine and cocaine for five years.

“It’s because of people like Andrea – I can’t thank her enough – she’s like my second mam.

“I’ve been volunteering since it opened – to start I was just helping out within two days they gave me a t-shirt and I got on with it.

“I’ve seen a few of my pals, people I’ve seen on the streets, off their faces on drugs and drink.

“I’ve seen then come down here and have food and that and they’re chatting away, happy as Larry, clean as a whistle. Just to see the smiles on their faces and know I’ve gone through the same as them: been on the streets, been on drink, been on drugs, lost family.

“It’s amazing to see them smiling.”

Amazing support from the Sunderland community

When the soup kitchen first opened earlier this year, Andrea says she was inundated with donations of food, toiletries and monetary donations.

The organisation is applying for charity status and along with the hot food it provides all donations are handed out to those in need.

Every volunteer who handles food has a level two food hygiene certificate – and those volunteers without the qualification are being trained by a professional who is volunteering.

How you can help?

Andrea has set up the Bottle of Pop appeal and is asking the public to donate £1.09, the cost of a bottle of pop, to the organisation to help provide food and supplies.

Andrea said: "Most people won't think twice about buying a bottle of pop and that's all we're asking for.

"All the money donated to us goes towards food supplies and covering the running costs. We've had loads of shares on Facebook but the proportion of individuals actually donating is a lot less.

"We have 3,000 people who have liked our Facebook page - imagine if every single person had donated just £1."

Anyone who would like to donate can find out more by visiting the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen on Facebook or can set up a standing order to the organisation.