AN ex-army chef who serves up support for the needy at a South Tyneside soup kitchen is calling for a generous helping of public support.
Ray Dent, 33, who was born in South Shields, worked at military and air bases all over the country keeping the nation’s forces fed.
Since November, he has been using his culinary skills every Monday at New Hope Church in Robinson Street, South Shields.
But with funding for the valuable service now running dry, a feast will soon turn to famine without extra help on the menu.
Big-hearted parishioners have already dug deep to extend the soup kitchen from an initial six-week spell until the middle of February.
But more cash for food supplies will be required to keep the ovens fired up to give more hot meals to the homeless.
While the team cooking up the tasty treats works for free, the food costs between £30 and £40 to serve as many as 21 people every week.
The church is also looking for precious cash for its emergency food parcel scheme, which helps those in desperate need of a meal.
Mr Dent has given his time for free, along with church volunteers, as a way of giving back to the church that offered him food parcels when he was living on the streets.
He now lives at a Sanctuary Supported Living (SSL) scheme in South Shields, after fighting a battle with alcohol and depression.
The caring cook came up with the soup kitchen plan with church project worker, Mary Kelly, and support assistant, Margaret Bird, as a way to boost his confidence and expand his skills.
Numbers have nearly doubled since November, with Mr Dent’s hot meal and dessert, as well as a sandwich and a cake to take away, proving a success.
New Hope Church treasurer Bob Parnaby said: “The meals were very well received and the number of users has increased.
“A year ago, we would have had about 12 people visiting the soup kitchen, but since Ray took over, that number has increased to about 20 to 21, taking us to full capacity.
“Ray has volunteered for free, but the food costs between £30 and £40 a week. Donations would also be used to support emergency food parcels.”
Mr Dent added: “I was keen to put my skills to good use by helping out the church that supported me.
“It’s great to know I can keep supporting people with good, freshly-cooked meals.
“I’ve been helped out so much by staying at St Aidan’s Road, but not everyone is as fortunate, so when I had the opportunity to cook for the soup kitchen, I wanted to support them.”
People keen to donate, can call Mr Parnaby on 07747 656333.