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Sunday Suppers offers food, hugs and smiles
AS the clock ticks around to 5:30pm, the guests burst through the door and are greeted with hugs and smiles by the volunteers.
Regulars start setting up tables and chairs, and get out tablecloths, plates and cutlery. Then they queue up for a cuppa and a pastry before settling down to chat. Soon they’ll be tucking into soup and rolls, sandwiches and cake.
This has been the routine at Sunday Suppers for around 30 years. St Simon’s Church in Southsea replaced its evening service with a simple meal every Sunday night for those who were homeless or in need. Up to 50 or so guests come each week, including those with addiction or mental health issues, or those who just need some company.
For Emily Orr, 23, it is literally a godsend. She and her fiancé, Nick Wakefield, 27, (both pictured above) come most weeks to Sunday Suppers.
“I love being here,” she said. “I can’t get a job because my autism means I get anxious easily, and it also means my world becomes a little closed off. Here I can make new friends, be part of a community, have some delicious food and learn a bit more about God. The volunteers are amazing and I always like chatting to them. They always make it so welcoming, and you feel included. The food is always good.”
The kitchen team will have arrived earlier to see what food has been donated by worshippers from St Simon’s or neighbouring churches, or from local supermarkets and cafes. They’ll chop fresh vegetables to make into soup, spread butter onto bread rolls, and pile up plates of sandwiches and cake.
Around 25 volunteers from St Simon’s take it in turns to run Sunday Suppers. And while guests and volunteers are eating together, one worshipper will speak for a few moments about an aspect of the Christian faith. They also pray throughout the week for those they’ve met.
Congregation member John Bazley, who has been volunteering at Sunday Suppers for 20 years, said: “This is where Jesus would be. The fact that I’m allowed to share in this is a huge privilege and honour. It’s probably the most worthwhile thing I do, and I’m convinced this is what the Church should be doing. For many of the people here, this is their community – this is their church. And I always get something out of being involved myself.”
At the end of the evening, volunteers will hand out what they call ‘party bags’, filled with food and other essential items for those in need. For those who are actually sleeping rough, they might include pot noodles and cup-a-soups, as local shops will provide them with hot water. Or there might be food that can be eaten straight from a tin, such as tuna. Duvets and sleeping bags may also be provided.
Once a month, Haircuts for the Homeless will come to cut guests’ hair and trim beards. On another Sunday each month, pizzas will be delivered from Domino’s Pizza, as their way of helping.
Anthony, 37, who walks down from his home in Fratton each week, said: “I’ve been coming for a couple of years, and the variety of food here is really good. I volunteer at a community centre, but I’m on Jobseekers Allowance, so I have quite a low income. So it’s great that there is also some food that we can take away with us.”
The credo at Sunday Suppers – based on Jesus’s words in Matthew 25 – is that anyone is welcome, whatever their circumstances. If you’re interested in volunteering to help, please contact St Simon’s on 023-9282 9440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corner of Waverley Rd/St. Ronan's Road, Southsea, PO5 2PW