Volunteers flock to help fight food poverty in Kingston

Community organisers in Surbiton have launched a pop-up soup kitchen to provide free meals during half-term week in an effort to tackle food poverty in the borough.

The Community Brain group set up the ‘Souper Soup’ free meal service at the Museum of Futures (117 Brighton Road, Surbiton) late last week and have helped give out dozens upon dozens of meals in a drive to fill the gap in meal services left by the government’s refusal to extend free school meals during October half term recently.

Their response follows others in the community, Kingston Council (RBK) and volunteer groups across the county who are in a concerted drive to tackle food poverty in the UK amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  

“All week we’re running Souper Soup, which is a choice of soups, bread, cake and some hygiene products each day, available to anybody who is struggling this half-term week.

“It’s been amazing. There is clearly a need for this to an extent way beyond just the half-term holidays.

“There is not just food poverty for children, very clearly there is obviously food poverty for adults as well,” Robin Hutchinson MBE, who chairs the Community Brain and the Museum of Futures, told the Surrey Comet.

“As the Community Brain, who have organised this, we couldn’t have done it without the amazing response of community volunteers. We’ve had well over 80 offering their help directly and others making cakes and bread to contribute.

“We came up with the idea on Friday morning, and by Saturday evening the offers of help were just unbelievable,” he added.

Indeed, images posted online by organisers and volunteers to the effort show a remarkable array of bread, cakes, soup and other essentials that have been sourced through volunteer efforts in the last few days.

Reflecting on the response, Robin said it showed some of the best aspects of people and our desire to help one another out in times of crisis.   

“I just think there is an incredible vein of decency that runs through the vast majority of people, and that actually when they see a situation like this, there is a desire to do the right thing. That is what we’re witnessing,” he said.   

“At a time when there is such division and the desire to blame, for our community to come together and behave like this is just uplifting.

“It’s been coming from everywhere and that is just fantastic,” he added.

The number of people arriving to receive food they cannot source themselves clearly shows a wider need in the area and a deep problem of food poverty, as RBK, Kingston Labour and others have recognised this week.

Indeed, late last week Cllr Diane White, the portfolio holder for the council’s children’s services said: “It is important that we do everything we can to support our children and families in need, and I am very pleased that we are able to make this contribution towards reducing holiday hunger,” of the council’s own response in providing free food vouchers to some vulnerable families.

As for the Community Brain, Robin said he hoped they could help support other groups with more experience tackling food poverty in the area as the community’s response to the issue evolves:

“I think the reality is there are organizations that are far better suited to doing this work than we are,” he said, pointing to the Dons Food Action Group for example as a well-organized grassroots group that have experience in this area.

“We’re teaming up with them and we need to identify the best people to deliver this going forward.

“We did this because we saw a gap and we wanted to respond to it. I hope with more planning we can actually support those organizations that are better placed to deal with it,” Robin added.

Souper Soup runs all week between 12pm-2pm at the Museum of Futures, 117 Brighton Road, Surbiton. 

Surrey Comet | Kingston