Leading article

Children using soup kitchens is an indictment of society

Volunteers Linda Duffy and Rosaleen Beattie sort out clothes donations at the soup kitchen. Picture Matt Bohill

All around Belfast city centre there are signs of affluence, from the busy coffee shops and restaurants, tourists arriving from cruise ships and enormous cranes helping to construct hotels, offices and university buildings.

Of course, that is not the whole picture.

A short distance from the ambitious Ulster University development there is a very different story, one where people in a desperate situation queue up for the most fundamental needs that many of us take for granted - food, shelter, warmth, some human interaction.

St Patrick's Soup Kitchen opened two years ago on Donegall Street where the iconic church is part of the fabric and history of Belfast.

Its aim was to provide sustenance to some of the homeless people in the city or those suffering from addiction. The first weekend it opened, the soup kitchen served around 20 meals.

Two years on, and the dedicated volunteers are serving almost 250 meals over a weekend.

Some of that staggering increase could be put down to greater awareness of the scheme but there is much more going on here.

The range of people turning up is much wider than those early days, as is the service being provided, with a food bank and clothes bank now available.

There are people of all ages who are socially isolated and come in for a chat, there are rough sleepers, those living in hostels who have to leave early each day, even some who live in their cars.

It is particularly distressing that families with young children are coming to the soup kitchen. Such is the level of poverty that the service may have to be expanded over the summer months to provide food for youngsters who would normally be fed at school.

SDLP Councillor Paul McCusker, a driving force behind the soup kitchen, said welfare reforms including Universal Credit, have had a 'crippling' financial impact on some people.

Hardship and hunger are a bleak reality for too many people, not just in Belfast but throughout the north where food banks have become a 21st century necessity.

Something has gone badly wrong in our society when children and their parents, for whatever reason, are turning to soup kitchens for food and other essentials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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