Blog post: behind the scenes at the Emmaus Gloucestershire soup run
My name is Alan, I am the Shop Manager at the Emmaus Gloucestershire Chequers Road shop and I have been doing the soup run every Wednesday night in Gloucester city centre for the past two years.
The soup run is led mainly by companions, who are people living in the Emmaus Gloucestershire community after experiencing homelessness, as well as staff and volunteers.
The project was started because companions wanted to show solidarity with people on the street who are in the position they once were. It was thanks to them that we got a plan of action together where we cook food during the day, make sandwiches, load the van up with teas, coffees, and soft drinks, and essential items such as toiletries, clothing, sleeping bags, tents and roll mats.
This project not only helps people still on the street, but shows Emmaus companions, like Sean, that they can help others and is key to helping them rebuild any lost self-esteem and confidence from when they were homeless themselves.
“I do the soup run because I’ve been homeless myself and now at Emmaus, I feel like I can put something back into society and help others any way I can. I’ve been doing the soup run every week for three months now and I’ve started to see the same faces, which is good because we can see how they are doing.”
Sean, Emmaus companion
Who do we help?
On average each week we see around 40 – 50 people at the soup run. While some of the people we see are street homeless, others are in supported housing associations, who may have just come off the street, and are unable to feed themselves properly. The majority are men, but we do regularly see women coming for help too, and a lot of them know each other so it has become a bit of a social occasion.
All the companions, staff and volunteers are aware of other local services in the area so we often signpost people to appropriate organisations if someone on the soup run has an issue they need to address.
What preparation is involved with a soup run?
Preparation for the soup run is ongoing – every day we put aside toiletries that have been donated, wash donated clothing and underwear, and stock pile anything we think would be useful to someone on the street or in supported housing.
On the day, work begins at 6am every Wednesday and requires everyone volunteering that week to play a part.
Neil, a companion at Emmaus Gloucestershire, is the community chef and cooks for the other companions. Every Wednesday, he will wake up earlier than usual to make ham, cheese, and egg sandwiches for the soup run, as well as cooking sausage casserole and bolognese before he begins cooking for everyone else.
Big credit to Neil - he even does this when he is scheduled to be off on a Wednesday.
We begin to sort through our stash of toiletries. We are very lucky to have a lot of support from the local community, who regularly donate to our soup run appeals. We pack up items like travel shampoos/shower gel, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand lotion, wipes, lip balms, and tissues.
One thing we also get donated a lot of is sanitary products. We have seen an increase of women coming to the soup run since it began, so sanitary products are always needed.
Someone will prepare cups with tea and coffee in wrapped in bags. This is for people to take away with them after the soup run has ended and plenty of places like McDonalds will give people free hot water.
We will begin to pack up male and female clothing, underwear, and weather specific items such as thermal tops, hats, gloves, and scarves. All these items would have been washed during the week by a companion ready to go for the soup run.
With phase one of the operation complete and all items sorted and packed, the van is loaded up ready to take to the community house at the end of the working day so we can load on the food.
We recently partnered with Greggs to pick up any unsold pastries and cakes every Wednesday to distribute on our soup run. I go here after closing the Emmaus shop at 5pm. We give these out at the end of the soup run as a treat for people – they are always gone in a matter of seconds!
After a quick dinner, the soup run team cook the pasta to add to the hot food Neil prepared in the morning, and we all pack up the van with tables, teas, coffees, soft drinks, sandwiches and food.
We arrive at the same spot in Gloucester city centre every week. Normally, there are at least 20 people waiting for the soup run, who all help unload the van and set up tables with us.
Despite a lengthy preparation, much of the food and items are gone within the first 15 minutes, and by half an hour we’re out of everything. Depending on numbers, each person will have received a sandwich, maybe two, a container of hot food, clothing and toiletries.
After everything is gone, many stay around for a chat with staff, companions and volunteers, and we clean away any rubbish before leaving for the night.
With our work done for another week, the process starts all over again for the following week!
How can someone get involved?
If someone is in the area and wanted to get involved with the soup run, we offer taster sessions for volunteering. To enquire about volunteering, please call 01452 413 095.