Soup kitchen serves up Christmas lunch to dozens in Belfast
Co-ordinater Paul McCusker said many of those who had joined the meal were lonely too.
Dozens of people have been served Christmas lunch at a soup kitchen in Belfast.
Warm coats and gifts were also offered to those attending St Patrick’s soup kitchen, thanks to donations from members of the public.
Volunteers had fed 80 people by 1pm on Christmas Day, while a team took meals out to the streets to help those sleeping rough.
Co-ordinator Paul McCusker estimated the service would help about 200 people across the day.
He said the soup kitchen was started in 2017, in response to a growing need from people in poverty.
But he said the facility also helps people who are lonely.
“We started by feeding 10 people in 2017, and now we are feeding hundreds every single weekend,” he told the PA news agency.
“The numbers continue to grow. The people who use our services here on Christmas Day are from all different backgrounds. Some live alone, there are also people from hostels who are homeless and also some people who sleep on the streets.
“We also have a team who go on the streets and bring Christmas dinner and support to those people who are sleeping rough over Christmas.
“We have given out 600 hampers and toys right across Belfast to families who would be struggling over Christmas.
“People who present here today will also get a present; we try to make it as festive as possible for them.
“Behind the lights and behind the buzz of Christmas there are lots of people who struggle.
“The soup kitchen here is to offer that support, that sort of listening ear, and for people who would be at home on their own, just to be around people.”
Mr McCusker said they are seeing a massive increase in those experiencing extreme poverty.
“There are many reasons for that, Universal Credit, people finding it difficult to manage their benefits, and nowadays people are struggling more because of the new welfare reform.”
He added: “Loneliness is a huge issue in society and one of the things we wanted to do is open the soup kitchen to those people who would be at home and lonely.
“One guy who used the service recently had said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in 15 days.”