Recently, someone who had read Paula’s Guest Blog of 22nd June wrote how colourful and interesting the food looked in the picture of Paula in the kitchen at Catching Lives – quite unlike the beige food often served up in NHS and other such establishments – so I thought I would let you know a bit more about the food and where it comes from.
First of all, though, I have to emphasise that Catching Lives is not a soup kitchen – in fact far from it. The main purpose of the charity is to try to help homeless people into accommodation and work, and if necessary to get essential medical attention or counselling, with the aim of getting them back into mainstream society. There is a bank of computers with people on hand to assist clients make applications for housing, benefits or work; qualified medical personnel to carry out assessments and treatment if appropriate; laundry and showering facilities to help people spruce up as well as the opportunity to meet others by participating in a yoga class, a game of scrabble, or an art class or follow another such interest. No-one sleeps in the building and there is no television! Providing good nourishing meals, therefore, is only part of the picture – but an essential step in the process of enabling clients to step back into having a meaningful life, when they have been living on the streets.
I have been cooking in the kitchen at Catching Lives on Wednesdays for over a year and a half now. Paula has been there for more than six years and there are two or three other regular Wednesday people, whom I look upon as friends, as well as the occasional student or helper who just turns up to work with us for a few weeks before moving on.
One of the great joys of cooking there is that until we arrive, we have no idea what we will be cooking or what ingredients will be available. Often when we arrive shortly after 8am, the central working surface is heaped high with produce and donations that have arrived late the day before. The first job is to sort it all out and think about what we can use immediately and then to store the surplus appropriately in fridge, freezer or larder. All of us chip in with suggestions of what to make, and once we have decided, we get on with it. The first clients arrive at 9am – well actually they are often outside long before that, but that’s when they get in – and make straight for the counter for breakfast. Tea and beans on toast are much in demand and there is cereal, supplemented with fruit, juice, cheese or cold meat, when available. One of us normally looks after making the toast etc, while the others get on with preparing lunch, which is served fairly early – between 11.45 and 12.30. One of the gadgets I yearn for in the kitchen at that moment is a “conveyor toaster” like you often see in hotels – it would get hot toast out to those who really appreciate it much faster than our pop-up.
We never know how many people we’ll be catering for. Since I have been there, we have served lunch to anything from 15 to 48 clients. There are generally more clients in the winter and fewer in the summer, when casual jobs on local farms are more likely to be available. However, nothing much is ever wasted: if there are surplus meals, the volunteers and staff can tuck in too and anything which can be used the next day is carefully covered, labelled and refrigerated.
Catching Lives uses part of its budget to buy essential food such as bread, margarine, milk and sugar from a local supermarket. However, most food comes from rather unconventional sources. Until I started cooking in the kitchen, I had never heard of FareShare. Basically, what they do is collect surplus food from supermarket chains, which donate it, and distribute it to charities such as ours. We pay a small donation towards FareShare’s transport costs – perhaps £1 for a tray of a dozen chops or chicken pieces. On their website FareShare say:
“We save good food destined for waste and send it to charities and community groups who transform it into nutritious meals for vulnerable people. The food we redistribute is fresh, quality and in date surplus from the food industry and the charities we work with can be found across the UK. Last year we redistributed enough food for 15.3 million meals. But it’s about more than meals. The organisations we supply food to – from breakfast clubs for disadvantaged children, to homeless hostels, community cafes and domestic violence refuges – are places that provide life changing support, as well as lunch and dinner. By making sure good food is not wasted, we turn an environmental problem into a social solution.”
So most of our meat comes from them at a token price. We made a delicious chicken and sausage bake with their meat recently, which definitely hit the spot.
Another great source of food for Catching Lives – mainly fruit and veg, but often cheese too – is the Macknade Farm Shop in Faversham. Stew and I have been shopping there for years: it is such a treat to go into their fab shop and look at all the exotic produce that they sell there. They are extremely generous to our kitchen and donate excess food, or anything that isn’t saleable. I have cooked things that they have donated that I have never even tried before, such as oriental mushrooms, black cheese and some amazingly unusual vegetables. Boxes of their stuff seem to arrive regularly on Tuesday evenings: it is a great joy to look in the boxes on a Wednesday morning.
Another supplier of useful and delicious ingredients is our local Nando’s. I’d never been into a Nando’s before I started cooking at Catching Lives, but I’ve been in a few times since – it’s good to eat somewhere that I know supports its local community.
Recently there was a lovely box of fruit and veg in the kitchen, and I was told it had come from Webbs Garden, which was created with the aim of providing therapy for St Martin’s Hospital’s mental health patients, as well as offering a base for the site’s Estates Department. It is based in the grounds of the hospital in Canterbury and benefits from local volunteers, who go in to help with growing food in greenhouses and poly tunnels. Much of the food grown is sold to hospital staff – but we were the lucky beneficiaries of fresh lettuces, cabbage and tiny little new potatoes, which must have been surplus to requirements.
Often, however, people just come in off the street with donations. Sometimes it is when there is a glut of one particular thing on their allotment – or perhaps they have turned that glut into jam or chutney for us. A fairly elderly couple come in about once a month with sausage rolls and cakes they have baked specially for us: I think at some point in the distant past they were homeless themselves and their gift to Catching Lives is in recognition of the support they themselves received when they most needed it. We got a bagful of jars of herbs and spices delivered to us recently: a local landlord was clearing out a student house at the end of term and handed in what they had left in the cupboard.
All of this food means that we can cook delicious lunches at a very low cost – and we have lots of laughs in the process. Our food gets many compliments from clients, staff and volunteers alike: we love their feedback. We make everything as fresh and colourful as possible in the hope that it will nourish and put a smile on faces. We know that having a full stomach helps contribute to the overall aim of Catching Lives – getting people back on their feet again. It is pretty difficult to do anything much in life if you are hungry and don’t know where your next meal is coming from.
If you want more information about Catching Lives, look at their excellent web site. I hope you agree that they are a worthwhile charity, and if you haven’t already donated to 3GKiliClimb.com maybe you will think about doing so, if you are able to. They will be getting half of everything we raise – and your donation will be matched by a very kind friend who has offered to double all donations we receive before August, up to a total of £5,895. What’s not to like about that?