By Lucy Robinson
“We welcome anybody – it doesn’t matter who they are or what they are, they’re welcome here.” That’s the attitude of Janet Allen, coordinator of Soul Café, a volunteer-run organisation that serves meals to Adelaide’s hungry two Sundays a month.
“It started out when we had a Sunday evening service,” Janet explains.
“We did a service and we discussed the gospel, and out of that came the idea that we really need to start doing something – it’s alright to sit around praying for people but maybe we need to be more practical.
“Somebody said ‘maybe we can do something on a Sunday, there’s no meals on a Sunday in Elizabeth for people’, and we did.”
Soul Café may have humble beginnings but it has flourished with the support of the Holy Cross congregation.
“We had no money, not much idea where to start,” Janet says.
“So it was a bit ad hoc to start with, but the congregation was fantastic – we said to them ‘look we want to start this, can you bring us some food?’.
“Our congregation have been fantastic – they continue to help us.
“We don’t go round begging for money, but we’ve got a tin there and if they just want to put 20 cents in or a dollar that’s fine and we managed to keep going for the first year or so that way.”
Now, on the first and third Sunday of every month, approximately 25-40 people head to Anglicare Mission at Elizabeth for a nourishing meal.
“It’s whatever we’ve got and whatever we can put together, but we always make sure they’ve got enough to eat,” Janet says.
In addition to organising regular meals and a Christmas dinner – complete with bonbons – Soul Café’s activities have expanded to knitting.
“We realised a lot of the people who come didn’t have beanies and scarves or whatever,” Janet says.
“So we continue now knitting right through the summer, so we can stockpile blankets, beanies, scarves, gloves, even baby clothes ready for next winter.
“If anybody comes in the interim that needs nice warm blanket if they’re sleeping outside, even in the warmer months, we can help.”
Janet would like to see Soul Café expand even further.
“The ideal thing would be for us to eventually have it every weekend, but we don’t have enough funds and, quite honestly, we don’t have enough people to help do that,” she says.
“There’s a core of about seven of us that do it more or less every time and we’ve been very blessed that the last two years we’ve had help from students from Witt’s House in Trinity College’s senior school.
“That’s been a big help and they’re lovely kids too.”
Although she’s grateful for the support of Anglicare, which allows Soul Café to use their facilities and previously provided two grants to support the work, Janet says the service couldn’t run without the support of the community.
“We’re on a bit of a wing and a prayer,” she says, when asked if the café is sustainable.
“Most grants are for new projects, so we find trying to get a grant for continuing a project is really quite hard, which is a bit sad.
“We’ve had a couple of good donations from individuals and we’ve got a book store where we just ask people to bring books in and you can put a donation in a tin for a book – we don’t put charges on the books.
“And if people don’t have any money and they want a book, well they can just take a book.”
Still, Janet is proud of Soul Café’s success to date, both in the service it provides and the way it treats people.
“We are very respectful to the people who come,” she says.
“We’ve got feedback from people that they like the way we talk to each other and the way we talk to them, which is really interesting.
“I think they get talked to not very nicely because they’re not very clean sometimes or well-dressed – people forget they’re just ordinary people with problems.
“We hope the youngsters who volunteer will carry that through to their adult lives – to not look down on people just because they’re having a bad time or they’ve got mental health problems.”