Tash 'The Toast Queen'
“My name is Tash and I work at an Accounting Firm 100 meters down the road from Soul Cafe. I’ve been working there for about 6 years. I didn’t know much about Soul Cafe until I saw something about the Sleepout 2 years ago. I didn’t know what it was, and then I saw it pop up again last year. That coincided around the same time that I was doing a lot of professional development. One of the things that we did was set goals, and community goals. I didn’t have any, but remembered seeing the Sleepout promotions, and I thought that aligned well.
I googled Soul Cafe first, found the volunteer form and sent that in. Soul Cafe was starting to do Thursday morning breakfasts, which was good because when I got here everyone was new, and it was nice. That was in August 2017.
10 months down the track I think that I’m a lot more understanding of social community issues. I didn’t really have any exposure to anything like this before, and so it’s really made me more empathetic. I guess I have a better understanding of people, their struggles, and not that I would have been too judgmental before, but I definitely wouldn’t be now.
When people come here, everyone is welcome. It’s great that there’s a safe place for people to come to and get the help they need, where they are treated kindly and equally. When people are out in the streets, they don’t get treated the same. When they come here, they’re treated as normal.
When you work, people say that you don’t have enough time to do stuff like this. I guess everyone has the same amount of time, it’s just how you use it. For me, I get up half an hour earlier than I normally would, come to Soul Cafe for two hours, and then stay back late at work. You can make the time for it if you want to.
When you do, it’s amazing. It’s nice to know that you’re making a difference in the community, even if it is just buttering toast.”
Mark and Suellen have been volunteering at Soul Cafe since February this year. They’ve lived in Newcastle for the past 4 years, after moving from the Northern Territory. We sat down with Mark to ask him about his volunteer experience so far.
“Suellen and I live locally around the corner, and we used to go to Friday night chill as most of the people in our building do and surrounds. For us, that’s how we meet our neighbours every Friday night. From there we decided come and have a look at what was happening at Soul Cafe, and that’s our grip on it.
Suellen is an office manager and administrator so she asked to have a role like that. I on the other hand am completely useless in the kitchen, so I am part of the floor team. So you could be welcoming guests in, talking to them, making them feel safe, giving them a friendly face (although my face is never friendly and always looks stern), and just give them a look into the place. If they feel that they are safe here, they’ll come back and talk, and hopefully they might even offer some insight into what they do.
Some days it looks like a knitting circle! The guys will come in and sit with their friends at certain tables and they talk… it’s just networking for them. It’s a place of meeting their friends every day. Coming for lunch might not be the biggest thing for them, it’s coming in and getting away from where they are.
My purpose is to facilitating friendships for the guests. You don’t have to be in their faces. More often than not I wont be in their faces – I’m just here to provide some company if they need it, and talk to them. I’ve noticed that we’re attracting more women, which is a nice. There are women out there with general needs being affected by domestic violence who need a place like this in their lives.
One of the biggest things I’ve seen here that’s really beneficial are the haircuts. As soon as the boys get a hair cut and a beard trim it’s like they’re a new person. Straight away you notice it. So of all the services at the moment – the haircuts are definitely doing a great job. It would be nice to see more women in need come to Soul who can utilise the service too.
I would say to someone considering to volunteer here to give it a go. It’s not for every day of the week because that is potentially stressful. I would suggest coming in and volunteering 1-2 days a week, getting onto a team and sticking together in your team. People will gradually get to know you on certain days, and they’ll come in and visit you on these certain days because they know that you’re there. It just gives the guests some consistency.
I’ve seen this place change a lot over the past few months. It is NOT a soup kitchen as some may think it is. It’s not a welfare agency either. It’s become an organisation that facilitates your mind and body towards a consistent health option (including help with suicide, mental health and things like legal aid) – it’s not just a cafe.”
In the year of 2000, Steve first came to Soul Cafe as a guest. He's been volunteering at Soul Cafe since 2004, has been sober for 13 years and gives up 20 hours of his week to assist in different areas at Soul.
Steve leads the group-based 'SMART Recovery' drug and alcohol support program. Steve is a great encouragement to those participating in the program as a result of his own life experiences. He also picks up food from vendors on Monday and Wednesday mornings and helps out for breakfast Mondays and Saturdays.
"Soul helped me out when I needed them and so I'm giving back to them now. I love Soul Cafe, I love what it's all about and what they do. I love volunteering with at least 100 other volunteers.
Don't put homeless people down, because you just never know... a couple of things could go wrong with your life and one day you could end up there yourself."
“ The last couple of years I’ve been trying to make a commitment to come in one day a week and just talk to people at lunch time. I love people and I love spending time with people.
I just sit down at tables where I feel people are happy to have you chat with them… and just to hear people’s stories. I’ve loved understanding different people’s stories because they are all so different – and very different to mine. You might a story from someone who has just been in jail, or at court, out of abuse or addiction – all of these different situations. You try to understand what their life is like and how to get a glimpse of it. I think that a lot of people don’t have anyone to listen to them and show genuine interest, but Soul Café offers a lot of opportunity in volunteering to genuinely care for people and listen to their stories.
In doing that too, I’ve really enjoyed befriending people and making people feel accepted and loved. I really enjoy (hopefully) being a positive influence in people’s lives.
There’s a lot of positive input at Soul Café. There’s a lot of stability for people – it’s always there and always open for them. It’s a good environment and it’s quite holistic, it’s not just offering a meal, but all of the other services too – the Dr, the Lawyer, Housing, Haircuts… it’s great!”