South Africa

Last supper at the Arch

By GroundUp 4 September 2013

The Arch soup kitchen in Cape Town is being shut down owing to a combination of lack of funds, crime, and other factors. The biggest casualties are, of course, the beneficiaries, who now have nowhere to go for food. By Tariro Washinyira for GROUNDUP.

“The Arch soup kitchen was my second home. I feel sad that this is my last time to eat here. The loving, warm, dedicated staff, a guaranteed meal even when it is raining, makes the Arch unique from all other soup kitchens in Cape Town,” says Richard Thomas, a homeless man.

Thomas says he has been a beneficiary since 1996. He did not miss a day. The soup kitchen used to run from Monday to Friday between 9am and 1pm. It served soup to almost 300 people.

Thomas bragged he knew all the volunteers and staff by their real names, and they knew him as a regular. He sadly recalled some of the precious moments at the soup kitchen, such as watching television and the sporting equipment it provided.

Signs that the soup kitchen is closing were there, but they kept hoping that things would return to normal. Sporting equipment and the TV were withdrawn; there followed rumours, then official word in July from the staff and volunteers who manned the soup kitchen that they were closing. Two weeks ago notices were posted on the walls.

Thomas is anxious. Another soup kitchen in Canterbury Street started on Friday 30 August, a day after the Arch soup kitchen closed, but it is only open for one hour from 11am to 12pm. He is predicting pressure in the queue because all people who used to be served at the Arch will be there. He is worried he might not get a warm meal at all, and if he makes it in the queue, his first meal of the day will be at 11am, whereas at Arch he would get it at 9am.

Mary Van Blek, the volunteer coordinator, said, “We are happy we have been able to help all these years. In future we hope to integrate the soup kitchen with other projects. I have both good and mixed memories of people I have served.”

Van Blek said the soup kitchen had been running for 35 years. They used to serve one meal to 300 people daily and approximately 6,000 meals a month. The soup is nutritional because it is a beef and onion mix fortified with vegetables. Beef and onion flavour was the recipients’ favourite.

When Groundup asked if it was too late to save the soup kitchen, cathedral dean Reverend Michael Weeder said not only financial circumstances led to closure. The decision was made because of a lack of adequate staff and volunteers. It was challenging to pay three members of staff – amounting to R25,000 per month. A criminal element has also started to abuse the cathedral precinct, and they had situations where staff were openly threatened.

On 28 August 2013 the Cathedral met with City officials from the office of Suzette Little, Mayoral Committee Member for Social Development and Early Childhood Development.

The City was informed that Mayor De Lille’s offer of R 50,000, appreciated as it was, would not solve the problems the soup kitchen faced. However, following many expressions of concern and multiple offers of financial support from the public, there is a possibility that the closure may be temporary. DM


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