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Need company this Christmas? The Winsome welcomes you

GIVING BACK: Mieke Bell with volunteers Ian and Jacky at The Winsome and Lismore Soup Kitchen.
GIVING BACK: Mieke Bell with volunteers Ian and Jacky at The Winsome and Lismore Soup Kitchen. Peter Derrett

IF YOU are homeless, alone or in need of company on Christmas Day, The Winsome and Lismore Soup Kitchen would like to invite you to join them for lunch.

The president of the soup kitchen, Mieke Bell, says she is expecting about 195 people on the day, bringing together its large community of patrons and about 40volunteers for Christmas fare, cheer and carols.

The Winsome Lismore Soup Kitchen has been feeding Lismore's homeless for 29 years.

But in 2009 the charity's benefactors managed to secure the Winsome Hotel, which has been the most "fantastic building for accommodating the many outreach activities and services offered to disadvantaged people”, Mieke says.

The soup kitchen now feeds about 90 people every day of the week. Some come for the meal, others come to enjoy each other's company and their Caddies coffee.

"It really has become the most tremendous hub. We have a local GP here once a week, a representative from Legal Aid, a Centrelink facilitator, there's a church service on Sunday and we even offer haircuts,” Mieke says.

"It really has become a way to provide holistic care to those in our community who need it.”

Kyle Reece Fordham Cook has been a regular at the soup kitchen for two years.

Without it, he says he would be "sleeping on streets, in the same clothes, hungry and asking people for money.

"If I could not get it, I'd probably end up in the courts.

"This place stops me thinking about doing stupid things, and gives me friends,” Kyle says.

"I have a full belly every day thanks to what they do here.”

Another patron who wishes to remain anonymous says he doesn't know what a lot of people would do "without this place”.

"They are ready to help everyone here. There's doctors, vegies, blankets and meals. They're really nice here. They helped me out with legal advice once. They helped me out big time.

"There's no way I would have gone out to find that advice, it would have been too overwhelming.

"It just makes you realise you are not alone,” he says.

As for the volunteers, Ian came to help one Christmas and has been back to offer his time on a regular basis ever since.

"I've had a fortunate life and have retired now. It enables me to give something back,” says Ian.

On the day the Lismore Echo visited, the team at LJHooker, Lismore, were serving lunch.

They began their association with the soup kitchen after the flood, when they set up a barbecue to help keep the service going and get back on its feet.

The office now closes for half a day each month to supply, cook and serve a meal to the hotel's regulars.

LJ Hooker's Michelle Mitchell says it has become the staff's favourite day of the month.

"It has become part of LJHooker's culture to give back to the community,” she says.

But there is one thing all those we spoke to had in common, and that was the love they have for the lady who pulls the leavers and strings both behind the scenes and in front - Mieke Bell.

"She's a very beautiful lady,” says one patron.

"She's been so nice to me,” says another.

"She does a lot for this place, organising. It's unbelievable,” says a third.

While Mieke says The Winsome is a very special place and puts "hands and feet to her Christian faith”, she is quick to deflect praise.

"It's the volunteers who make the place so special.

"We could not do it without the commitment and dedication of all our volunteers, as well as the financial backing of those who are part of The Winsome 500,” she says.

"I do not see it as 'us' and 'them', but 'our'.

"Every regional centre should have a Winsome.

"I love it. It is unique and I have watched this feeling grow. But you cannot do it on your own - and you shouldn't be alone at Christmas.”

The Christmas lunch event will start about 9am.


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