Dishing it out after 20 years
SERVING hot meals to Lismore’s needy for almost two decades, Margaret Lord has seen the changing face of poverty and homelessness in our region.
When she first volunteered for the then fledgling Soup Kitchen, most of its clients were youngfamilies struggling to put food on the table.
Today, those seeking help are more likely to be homeless with mental issues and drug problems.
“In the earlier days the clients could get involved and take part, but now with the bigger drug problem they get involved less,” Ms Lord said.
Yet while the clients may have changed, the ethos that has governed the Soup Kitchen, which officially celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, has remained constant.
The Soup Kitchen was founded by Don Ferguson and operated out of the Church of Christ at the corner of Magellan and Keen streets.
Suffering from burn-out, Mr Ferguson left town shortly after Ms Lord began to volunteer.
He didn’t return for a visit until 10 years later.
“He was shocked, stunned and amazed to see how the Soup Kitchen had grown and was still operating,” Mrs Lord recalls.
Yet, soon into its life, the Soup Kitchen itself became homeless when the church thought it inappropriate to host it while it also ran a kindergarten.
After three months of volunteers cooking in their own kitchens and delivering food to Heritage Park, they moved into the Police Boys Club.
It was at this time that many of its clients began to help out, allowing the kitchen to expand its operation from four meals a week to seven.
Two years later, a volunteer bought a warehouse in Union Street, South Lismore, and the Kitchen became more of a drop-in centre with craft groups, a doctor who visited once a week, and regular day trips on a donated bus.
“We had pool tables and dart boards. People would come for the interaction,” Mrs Lord said.
As homelessness started to become more of a problem in the early 1990s, the Soup Kitchen won a $50,000 government grant that it used to purchase a seven-bedroom house, which it named after volunteer Sister Margaret Mazza.
The rapid growth the Soup Kitchen saw in the late 1990s came to an end when a fire tore through the former paint warehouse in August 2001.
“Within a week we were operating out of the tin shed, but all our services stopped because we didn’t have facilities. We just went back to basics,” Mrs Lord said.
“To our amazement we stayed there for quite a while.”
Three years ago, the Soup Kitchen even recruited its own band, the Hope Trolley Band, which is open to everyone with an instrument.
Today, in their new home at the Winsome Hotel, volunteers who have put food on the table of the town’s needy for the last 20 years will have their own celebration and maybe reflect on the lives they have helped put back together.