Meet The Locals: Birgit Sowden From Urban Angels Community Kitchen

May 30, 2024

Urban Angels Community Kitchen provides more than 13,000 meals a month to Sunshine Coast people in need.

Run by Integrated Family and Youth Services (IFYS), the program grew out of the grassroots work of Birgit Sowden and her army of amazing volunteers.

Birgit says there is a growing need for this wonderful service. So this week we’re shining the spotlight on this amazing not-for-profit organisation and the impact they have on our local community.

Birgit, so lovely to meet you – what does Urban Angels Community Kitchen do and who do you help?

There are many people who need a healthy meal and who, for any number of reasons, don’t achieve this from one day to the next.

Maybe they’re temporarily not caring for themselves very well. Maybe they’re recovering from illness and not able to cook or have lost motivation for cooking as they live in isolation. Maybe they’re homeless or struggling financially, or maybe they have long term physical and mental health issues. If a person contacts us asking for assistance we always say yes and then work out how long they will need our help for – it could be short-term or long-term.

We deliver food made with love to people in crisis. We help new migrants, students, the elderly and struggling families, and we’re driven largely by volunteers.

Together, we make at least 13,000 meals a month to deliver across the Coast, as far North as Maryborough and as far South as Caboolture.

The gift of a meal is a beautiful thing. You give a meal to someone and it’s like a pressure relief valve goes off in their head and they can focus on solving other problems, like the reason for their crisis.

We deliver to schools – because they are the heartbeat of our community. We receive referrals from a bunch of places, including Queensland Health, social workers, psychologists, The Salvos and St Vincent De Paul, community centres, PCYC, palliative care, other charities and word of mouth.We also provide three meals a day, 365 days a year to 60 residents at our IFYS Housing Pathways Program (The Hub), in Birtinya.

Tell us how Urban Angels Community Kitchen got started?

It’s a very long story but in a nutshell – I’ve always cooked in bulk.

My love of cooking grew out of practical necessity. When you do something often enough you get good at it. Cooking is my language.

Through cooking, I also learned really young that food is a great tool to make people happy and provide connection and belonging within a community. Everyone has a story about family events where you get together over great food.

Urban Angels Community Kitchen originally started – in a slightly different form – when I had kids at school. I was cooking for a lot of people, like families who were new to the area and experiencing a crisis with no support network. I approached the school and suggested we do some cook ups in the hospitality room once a term.

Supported by other mums and families within the school we filled a freezer with 500 meals. Everyone donated something like a bunch of carrots or a leg of lamb, or their time.

Wow, but how did it grow to making 13,000 meals a month?

We’ve expanded over the years, and, since 2016 we have been a program of IFYS. However, the same model really still operates.

We rescue food and take food donations and IFYS provides our base funding. It’s all private money – businesses and donors who are very supportive of us. We don’t rely on government assistance to run the meal program.

Our fruit and veg wholesaler donates some produce to us every week. We are also linked to Oz Harvest and Second Bite. And, if someone has a pumpkin vine they give us loads of pumpkins. There are lots of pumpkins this year!

Last year we were given a pallet load of plums so everything had plums in it – we used it to sweeten dishes and sauces, make stir fries, cakes and more.

What kind of meals do you cook?

It really depends on what we have available by way of ingredients on any given day.

We believe in nutrition being the first step towards a functional life, so the food is nutritionally balanced. We cook everything from scratch and we do not use any additives whatsoever. That includes making our own curry paste, powder and sauces.

Most of our meals are gluten free – apart from pasta dishes, because we haven’t found a good gluten free pasta that freezes well yet. We also have a lot of vegan dishes as we support a lot of migrants who are vegetarian.

We pay attention to the presentation too and the quality of our food is very high. We have had many people say that they would like to buy our food as it’s better than many paid options in the market!

When clients see our meals their eyes light up. There is a dignity in giving people the quality we are able to. I’ve also seen first hand how the recipients of our meals become well after having our meals for a few weeks. You can’t separate the mind from the body – science has proven that. When people are physically well their mental health also improves out of sight.

But Urban Angels Community Kitchen is a lot more than just the food, right?

Yes, food is the tool we use to create a sense of community. We’re essentially a community building platform and food is the tool we use to connect people and create a sense of belonging.

Social isolation is rife in our community, and loneliness is out there in epidemic proportions. It’s a big problem. Often, we’re the only people who visit someone all week. We can take the time to listen to their stories. We can stay and chat and we can see it in their eyes that this matters to them.

We’ve always stuck to the core principle that food is a healing tool.

Thank you for what you’ve built with Urban Angels Community Kitchen, Birgit – and the amazing support you offer people in our community.

I believe that everyone can do something to fix the social problems in our communities. It takes all of us in the community to solve these very difficult problems. What we do together at Urban Angels gets me out of bed in the morning. The volunteers and our supporters make me realise the world is pretty good whilst the media would have us believe differently. The people I see every day give me hope for humanity.

How can people get involved with Urban Angels Community Kitchen?

We always need donations and money for ingredients, and we rely very heavily on our amazing volunteers. They’re the backbone of our operation.

We see 160 volunteers through our kitchen every week. We work flexibly with our volunteers, accommodating whatever their availability or passion is.

Please check out our website, or Instagram, or Facebook for more info on how you can get involved.

Thanks for the chat, Birgit, and the support you offer our community.

Photo credits: Urban Angels Community Kitchen Facebook page

Caloundra City Realty

Article by Caloundra City Realty

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