As many of you know, I work for an Irish charity called Localise, a not-for-profit youth and community development organisation, it's the job I've had the longest. It's a job you can hardly find fault with or a chance to get bored in, and of all the jobs I've ever had, this is the one I've found most satisfaction in. I get paid to do good. Everyday I go to work, I am fortunate enough to witness the selflessness of volunteering and the hundres and thousands of volunteers who make the third sector in Ireland work.
So when Clare (An American in Ireland) contacted me with an idea to do some volunteer cooking for charity, I of course say yes. We were invited to cook a lunch/dinner shift in a fantastic community cafe managed by CrossCare staff and volunteers.
Clare got involved with CrossCare through her payjob with Kellogg's UK, which donates breakfast cereals to the charity's food bank. Among other things, the food bank supplies ingredients to three community cafes in Dublin. These cafes provide a much needed meal service for individuals and families who find themselves unable to afford a proper meal or who are too weak and/or sick to fend for themselves. I've been in soup kitchens and housing facilities for the homeless many, many times, so I had this certain expectation of the place.
The deal was to volunteer in the kitchen to cook a meal option for the cafe's lunch/dinner service with what we had available in the food bank and to raise a bit of awareness for the wonderful service these cafes provide. We split into two teams: Caryna Camerino and Bill & Sharon Gunter went to the Cafe in Portland Row; while Clare, Rosanne Hewit-Cromwell and myself went to the cafe in Holles Row.
When I walked into the cafe I was surprised to see how lovely it was! The ethos of these cafes is to provide nutrious and affordable meals in a safe and attractive environment, so this was not your regular soup kitchen folks, the place really looks lovely, no more different than the coffee shops you pay big bucks in Dublin City, but with a big difference, a three course meal will cost you only 3 euros!!
The place is open to the general public, so you might find a bunch of office workers at one table, sitting next to an elderly gentelman who needs a hot meal or a family that has fallen onto hard times. The environment is friendly, light, airy and full of community spirit.
The waiting staff, all volunteers, are super friendly and since many people are regulars, they all know each other by name. It's a great place for elderly service users, as they get a proper meal and a good chat and they can hang around for as long as they want.
The kitchen in Holles Row also supplies meals on wheels for local residents and all the members of staff were brilliant! Even when we were going around messing up the place and disrupting their well oiled routines. Louise, the cafe's manager, was very helpful, she gave us a tour of the kitchen, spoke about the work they do with passion and compasion that is often seen in people who have a vocasional call for service.
It was a brilliant experience. Cooking big quantities is not an easy job and I take my hat off to the staff in the cafe who do this day in and day out 3 times a day, 6 days a week plus preparing the meals on wheels all with a big smile on their faces. We had an absolute blast and the morning went by so quickly! We were given mince beef and access to the larder and cold pantry.
Since the cafe receives a lot of elderly clients, we could not be too outlandish with our cooking choices, so we kept it simple; we made a killer lasagna and a lovely dessert of rubharb crumble with almond flour and Kellogg's Crunchy Nut! (very clever and tasty idea from Rosanne!). It was delicios and it did not break the bank. It is great to see not for profit organisations like CrossCare attempting to tackle food poverty issues in Ireland. We need a lot more like them as it is estimated that one in ten people in this island are living in food poverty.
My lovely friend, Derek Cleary, often says that giving back is the way forward... well guys last week it was my chance to give back in a small way. I loved every minute of it and we are hatching plans to go back soon for a proper fundraiser. If you feel like giving back yourself, they are always looking for volunteers, so check out their volunteering section and experience the selfless joy of volunteering, there is very little we can actually do to help abroad, but there is a lot we can do to help here, and charity, after all, starts at home.