Serving up kindness to those in need

By Sam Hurley

The Swannell family (from left) 7-year-old twins Rachel and Zedekiah, Stephanie, 17, Kevin and Kiri, help serve  soup in Clive Square, Napier. Photo/Paul Taylor
The Swannell family (from left) 7-year-old twins Rachel and Zedekiah, Stephanie, 17, Kevin and Kiri, help serve soup in Clive Square, Napier. Photo/Paul Taylor

A Taradale family, feeding the homeless from a mobile soup stall in Napier, are staggered by the community support they have received as they continue to serve those struggling on the street.

Kiri Swannell said she was overwhelmed with the support for the family's cause following a story in Saturday's Hawke's Bay Today Weekend, as the paper began its Fighting Poverty series. The series, in conjunction with the Salvation Army, is aimed at highlighting poverty in the Bay.

As of last night, the story had generated more than 13,500 views on Hawke's Bay Today's Facebook page and received many positive comments. The Swannell mobile soup kitchen operates every Monday at 6pm from Clive Square in Napier.

"Thank you for publishing our story again - we have had so much positive feedback," Mrs Swannell told the paper.

Yesterday evening, the family was still "plugging away" by helping those who battle with themselves and the system.

It is a mission Mrs Swannell and her family embarked on last winter after a chance meeting with a homeless man in a carpark.

The following day, Mrs Swannell phoned the Napier City Council to ask if her family could establish a mobile soup kitchen in the city.

Since then the mission has grown for Mrs Swannell, her husband Kevin, and their teenage daughters Tiana and Stephanie.

After noticing the homeless were becoming "younger and younger" and discovering there was nothing for them in Hawke's Bay, the family have campaigned for an emergency shelter.

"There are so many battling the system, people are slipping through the cracks," Mrs Swannell said.

"There is nothing here in Hawke's Bay, no shelter, nothing. The closest one I believe is in Palmerston North. So we want an emergency homeless shelter here and it is something we are trying to help the Salvation Army with."

She said she rang the Napier City Council with the idea for a temporary shelter but received a negative response.

"They said it wasn't their problem. They said it's a community problem. Well, aren't the council the community, aren't they supposed to look after us?"

Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said there was a developing problem of homeless people in Napier and the council was doing everything it could.

The Swannell family continues to set up the soup kitchen every Monday night at Clive Square, before moving the truck to Maraenui later in the night.

"We sit down and spend some time with the guys. Hand out woollen socks to some. We want to get to know them and we have established some good relationships," Mrs Swannell said.

She added on any given Monday night, about 20-40 people would head to the soup kitchen, while in summer nearly 100 people would gather in Maraenui.

"A lot have had drug or alcohol addictions but we do try to look beyond that for the ones you are looking to change ... Some of them have horrific stories to tell of their lives."

She recalled a sad moment when she chanced upon a homeless man drinking alone on the beach.

"You probably would just want to sit there and drink and try and numb yourself from the rest of the world."

Next month her husband will "rough it" for two nights with a couple of friends and sleep on the street, she said.

"It shows that we care - It's also about building a relationship with these guys and it shows that we think they are worth it."

Those wanting to donate food or help the family can contact Kiri directly on 027 285 5454 or go to their Facebook page, entitled Hope Unlimited Soup Truck.

Fighting Poverty p6-7

Support for the Swannell family, p7

- Hawkes Bay Today

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