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Friends upset 'Devastated' Dublin soup kitchen face closure unless they comply with food safety regulations

'They said all volunteers would have to get recognised training and I would have to pay for it'

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Glenda Harrington runs the Friends Helping Friends soup kitchen in Dublin

Glenda Harrington runs the Friends Helping Friends soup kitchen in Dublin

Glenda Harrington runs the Friends Helping Friends soup kitchen in Dublin

A Dublin woman who runs a volunteer soup kitchen to feed the homeless has said she is devastated after being told she faces closure by the HSE unless they comply with food safety regulations. 

Glenda Harrington, from Ballymun set up the Frends Helping Friends soup kitchen that operates from stalls outside the Bank of Ireland on College Green every Tuesday and Friday night.

Glenda, who has run the entirely volunteer-run operation for more than four years, says she was visited by HSE officials who have told her she must agree with certain regulations in order to continue operating.

“Without prior contact and on foot of no complaints, the HSE’s Environmental Health Department met us before we could start feeding our long queue the other Tuesday,” she wrote on Facebook.

“They asked me a number of questions about how we operate. They referred to us continuously as a food business or as a charity, of which we are neither.

“We have subsequently received a letter to outline to us that they have chosen in the case of homeless soup runs to subject us a strict compliance issues and full enforcement action and closure if we do not comply.”

Glenda said the enforcement included having full hand washing facilities, having all staff attend and pay for specialised food safety training and to register and have her kitchen inspected by the HSE.

“A few years ago, I came up with this idea, let’s feed the homeless, after I saw the situation for myself on the streets. I was shocked by the number of rough sleepers so I went out with one pot and now four years later I feed two to hundred and fifty people each night.

“But the other night two HSE inspectors came down and said they wanted to make sure I was adhering to all guidelines.

“They kept referring me as a food business but I tried to tell them we were just a group of like-minded people who wanted to try and make a difference.

“But they said all volunteers would have to get recognised training and I would have to pay for it. But they are here only through the kindness of their hearts, they don’t want training.

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“They also asked me where the food was prepared and that would mean an inspection of my kitchen at home. Others donate food like sandwiches and curry and all their places would have to be inspected.

“So, people who are trying to do a good thing would have to be all inspected by health inspectors.

“My kitchen is in a family home, it would not pass any inspection,” she added.

Glenda insisted she was not opposed to guidelines or regulations as “hygiene is important” but the “training and registering with the HSE and the kitchen inspection is a no-go”.

However, Glenda, who appeared on The Late Show 18 months ago, where she and other volunteers were applauded for their efforts, has not given up yet.

“I won’t give-up a fight,” she added. “They will have to close me down before I quit.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said the primary responsibility of the Environmental Health Service is the protection of public health.

"The HSE Environmental Health Service works under a Service Contract for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to ensure the relevant food legislation is applied as necessary, the spokesperson said.

"All food businesses must comply with the requirements of food law that is relevant to the business they operate. Regulation (EC) No. 178 of 2002 defines a food business as “any undertaking, whether for profit or not and whether public or private, carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of production, processing and distribution of food.”

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