It’s different things to different people. It depends on who you ask.
For rough sleepers, it’s a safe and welcoming respite from the streets, a place to come for a warm meal, mental health counseling, and more. For the elderly, lonely and poor, it’s a place to connect and find comfort in a big city where they often feel forgotten.
For AWC volunteers, it’s an opportunity to serve others, widen perspectives, make new friends, and make a difference.
For Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen, Senior Minister at the American International Church, the Soup Kitchen is about much more than the meals. “It’s not just a handout, it’s not just the clothes. It’s about a sense of community, a place to belong... And for many of us, it’s about missing them when they’re gone.”
Bonnie Garmus, AWC Activity Leader for the Soup Kitchen, shares her sentiments. “People come to the Soup Kitchen ostensibly for a meal, but also for warmth and companionship. While some struggle with mental issues or addiction problems, most of them are simply down on their luck. As one of the guests once told me, ‘The Soup Kitchen is one of the few places where I can go, enjoy a hot cup of coffee, and not be judged.’”
Although Bonnie works five days a week, she carves out time to volunteer there twice a month. She says she always looks forward to seeing AWC friends, Soup Kitchen staff and the many guests they serve. “I’ve been volunteering at the Soup Kitchen for nearly two-and-a-half years," she says, "and out of all the experiences London has to offer, this remains my favorite.”
Conversation with Bonnie: It’s about friendship and perspective
How has the Soup Kitchen changed since you started?
In the last year, the number of people who seek our help has doubled.
What’s the greatest need? How can people help?
We’re in dire need of men’s jeans, trainers, parkas, and backpacks. Gently used, clean—no holes! But we also need fresh recruits to help prepare food, serve food and coffee, take numbers for the Clothes Closet, and generally just dig in and help.
What strikes you the most?
You start realizing how thin that line is—how homelessness can happen to absolutely anyone. Some of our guests have been faced with horrific burdens through no fault of their own—bad luck, layoffs, war, human trafficking, illness, the death of a loved one. I’m always amazed at how optimistic many of them remain. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have thanked us for simply being there—for smiling, taking their requests seriously, asking after their latest job application, checking in on their health, and especially, especially, for not judging them.
How has the Soup Kitchen affected you personally?
I count many of the guests I’ve met at the Soup Kitchen among some of my closest friends in London—which might sound implausible, but it’s true. You get to know people at their worst and it creates a bond that isn’t easily broken. A few weeks back, one of them waited patiently for his number to be called for the Clothes Closet, then once at the window, told me he didn’t really need anything. "I just came to see you and say hello." It made my whole day.
About the AWC and the Soup Kitchen
The Soup Kitchen feeds roughly 100 people, six days a week. Every other Monday (the busiest day of the week), AWC volunteers prep and serve coffee and soup followed by a warm meal for the 100-plus guests, followed by cleanup. It’s hard work, but also fun, and hugely appreciated. As one volunteer put it, “It feels good to feel useful.”
We need nine to ten volunteers each time: four or five to help serve in the cabin, one to call out Clothes Closet numbers, two to three in the kitchen, and one in the Clothes Closet. Join us!
Learn more about the Soup Kitchen here: amchurch.co.uk/soup-kitchen/