Northern Ireland news

Chefs take over church soup kitchen to make Christmas dinner for homeless

Fr Eugene O'Neill, Paul McCusker and Fr Brendan McGee prepare for the soup kitchen at St Patrick's Church. Picture by Hugh Russell

CHEFS from a Co Down hotel took over the kitchen of a well-known Belfast church last night to provide Christmas food for the city's homeless community.

The 'More Than Soup' initiative brought restaurant quality meals to people arriving at St Patrick's Church soup kitchen.

Ken Sharp, owner of The Salty Dog in Bangor, joined forces with the organisers of the weekly soup kitchen on Donegall Street to prepare and provide a special Christmas menu for the homeless.

Mr Sharp has been inspired by a social gastronomy movement by Italian chef Massimo Bottura, who believes in giving the homeless the dignity of a good meal in the company of others.

He is now calling for more restaurants in Northern Ireland to help feed the growing number of people in food poverty and hopes that one night every month, other eateries will 'take over' the soup kitchen to take the pressure off organisers.

The facility at the city centre church was launched in September, operating every Friday and Saturday night from 7-11pm.

"We first started talking about this as a one-off, standalone initiative in the run-up to Christmas but really, it could - and should - be much more than that," said Mr Sharp.

"St Patrick's soup kitchen has done amazing work since opening but why should it be the responsibility of a few and not the many to help feed those in poverty?"

Paul McCusker, one of the organisers of the soup kitchen, said: "The three pillars we look to address with our community outreach are 'food poverty, hopelessness and isolation'.

"The idea behind Ken's 'More Than Soup' campaign struck a chord with us - especially in terms of isolation and the impact a good meal in good company could have on some of the members of our community.

"We would very much welcome others and seeing this 'takeover' repeated on a more regular basis."

The church also organised an appeal for food and toys for families in need.

Mr McCusker said he was delighted by the generous response, with donations having already helped more than 100 families.

"The appeal was in conjunction with Moving On Homeless Support and Antrim Road Cabs," he said. "I want to thank John Kelly from Antrim Road Cabs who has been very supportive."

Mr McCusker said the soup kitchen will remain open over the weekend and St Stephen's Day and will reopen as normal next weekend.

Any family in need of support can contact Mr McCusker on 07467 339637.

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