The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

‘Many more people need help, but feel humiliated to come forward’ – soup kitchen friar

Shona Berger Sunday, 12 June 2022, 07:30 Last update: about 15 days ago

A soup kitchen in Valletta serves around 80 to 100 people a day, but according to a priest who runs the place there are many more who need our help, but are not coming forward as they feel humiliated in doing so.

The priest, Franciscan Father Marcellino Micallef, said that not everyone is the same in society, as some people have too much in life, while others have too little.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Malta Independent on Sunday visited the soup kitchen located in St Ursula Street in Valletta to speak with Fr Micallef on the way it operates and on the kind of life lived by some of the guests.

Fr Micallef said that 91% of people who visit the soup kitchen are Maltese, while 9% are foreigners. He explained that among their main problems are drug abuse and alcoholism, with many people turning to Franciscans as they are in desperate need for help.

 

‘Some are in such tough situations in life that their only solution is suicide’

Fr Micallef shed light on the dire and grave situation of the kitchen’s visitors, saying that some are sleeping in the streets, others are residing in abandoned garages and washrooms, while others have been scavenging for their daily good in communal waste bins late at night, so that no passers-by see them.

A woman who visits the kitchen on a regular basis shared her story with this newsroom, explaining that up until recently she did not have a mattress to sleep on. Consequently, she had to resort to sleeping on a wooden bed frame. It was the Franciscan friars and volunteers who provided her with a mattress.

Another person who was also at the kitchen recounted how he goes to eat and shower at the soup kitchen every day, but then goes back to sleep outside in the streets in Valletta.

Fr Micallef explained that some people are in such tough situations in life, that the only solution they see is suicide.

“Suicide is a very common problem in this place. We’ve had people who had to be taken to Mount Carmel Hospital because it is the only safe place they can reside in,” Fr Micallef said.

Fr Micallef said that out of the 80 to 100 people they serve every day, 65% are men, while 35% are women.

The kitchen offers lunches from 11am to 1pm, packed meals, showers and laundry facilities. The people who visit the kitchen also have the opportunity to seek legal support and counselling free of charge.

Medical treatments and medicine are also provided at the kitchen when any visiting people need it. Vouchers for clothing are also sometimes given; these can be spent at YMCA clothing store in Żabbar at very low prices.

 

8,600 people served at the soup kitchen in its first four months of operation

The kitchen opened its doors on 25 August 2021 and has been specifically established to cater for people who have absolutely nothing and no one in life and those who are living in a situation where they can barely make ends meet.

The kitchen aims to give these people a voice in society and help them get back on their feet as best as they can. It also aims to provide the homeless and those who encounter severe financial difficulties with nutrition and care on a daily basis.

In its first four months of operation, Soup Kitchen OFM served a total of 8,600 people with 10 of these people being children.

A total of around 110 volunteers help out at the soup kitchen and the only two employees are the chef, who is also the manager, and a part-time accountant. Companies such as McDonalds and HSBC send over people to the kitchen to help out, while certain schools also bring students to volunteer.

The place also welcomes people who spent time in jail, with Fr Micallef saying that these people go through insurmountable challenges once they serve their time and society does not easily accept them back within it.

“I fear that the same society which does not accept these people is the same system which failed to care for them. Some have had to face traumatic experiences such as childhood abuse, violence and sexual abuse, among others. Instead of living in a supportive society, they are living in a society which looks at them with disgust,” Fr Micallef said.

He said that his mission is not a political one but a pastoral one as he aims to be a shepherd among those people who need support.

In the interview, one could see the people who visit the kitchen speaking to Fr Micallef with appreciation, gratefulness and respect for all he is doing for them. One could even sense that despite the humiliation these people might feel for having to visit the kitchen, Fr Micallef does his utmost to make them feel welcomed and valued.

Fr Micallef explained that regardless of how many well-developed structures are put in place, society will still have people who fall through its cracks. However, a change in the entire system, including the education sector, is required.

“Unfortunately, the mentality that ‘if it doesn’t affect me, then it is not my problem’ is still very present in our society. One can never say what might happen and a person who thought would be living one way in life, can easily end up living another. Therefore, we must try to be understanding and sympathise with the situation of others,” Fr Micallef said.

 

Night shelter currently in progress to be built in the coming future

Asked on whether he believes that society can change, Fr Micallef said that the Maltese population is very generous and a lot of work is being done, but a lot more still needs to be done.

“Sometimes society can also be very judgmental as it is very difficult to sympathise with what these people are going through,” Fr Micallef said.

He said that the first emergency present in the country is that related to the need of night shelters.

Fr Micallef plans to open a night shelter in the coming future. The plan is to build a seven-storey building which will offer homeless people a temporary place to stay.

The final floor plans have been developed for them to be sent to the Planning Authority.

Fr Micallef noted that one cannot live on €300 to €400 wage income each month, saying that “this would be a lie if someone says otherwise, especially considering the cost of living in Malta”.

“As a result, society needs to be more kind to these people,” Fr Micallef added.

He said that the solution to all of this might be education as “it is the key to change within a society. The majority of people who visit the kitchen do not even have basic skills, especially those who spent 30 to 50 years of their life in jail”.

 

Any financial donations to help the Soup Kitchen OFM – Valletta can be sent to:

·         APS: A/C 41286610023 MT56APSB77013000000041286610023

·         BOV: A/C 40024827012 MT46VALL22013000000040024827012

 

If anyone would like volunteer his time or help with monetary donations can call Fr Micallef on 7922 7570.

 

  • don't miss