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Dublin: 17 °C Saturday 15 August, 2020
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The five-star chef feeding the homeless on Christmas day

Sophia House does incredible work bringing people from homelessness to independent living. Their chef Trevor Kearns will cook Christmas dinner for them today.

THIS CHRISTMAS DAY, as he has for the past seven years, Trevor Kearns will cook two Christmas dinners.

The five-star chef will sit down this afternoon for dinner with his family, but not before he has cooked and served up a Christmas meal to residents at Sophia Housing on Cork Street, Dublin.

Kearns, who also works as a private chef, is at the helm of the kitchen at Sophia Housing, which provides housing and supports to homeless people.

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Community

There’s a lovely feeling at Sophia Housing; a warm, inclusive atmosphere that welcomes all those who are there because of hardships in life.

Sophia’s CEO, Declan Dunne, told TheJournal.ie that what struck him about having Trevor on board was the boost in quality it gave the café, and how this impacted on the residents. “It’s consistent with the approach of Sophia,” he said.

What I’ve learnt is the approach of Sophia is people have dignity and should be treated with dignity. How do you do that? You give them the best of everything. And then people feel differently about themselves.

Kearns’ day will begin at 9am, when he arrives at the gated housing community, where people are given the supports to help them live independently.

He and his staff spent yesterday preparing for the Christmas dinner spread. Up until 10.30am this morning, when the first residents arrive for steaming cups of tea and coffee, they’ll have the turkey on for roasting and be putting the finishing touches to dessert.

On hand will be two Community Education (CE) workers to work with him in the cosy kitchen on the three-course meal.

The coffee shop in Sophia is the antithesis of a gloomy institution. It’s welcoming, friendly, and popular with the residents. Working there is a joy for Kearns, who has brought home-baked cakes and breads to the shelves.

Changing the kitchen

When he first joined, Kearns saw that the kitchen used packets and processed food. Under his watch, the kitchen now only serves real food prepared on the premises – there are no stock cubes or packets of junk here.

“I don’t feel there’s a need for it,” he said. “Vulnerable people should have the opportunity as much as other people.”

The change has paid off: in the first few years, only a handful of people would turn up for the Christmas dinner. These days, he expects up to 20 of the community’s single residents.

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Two of the staff at the Sophia café.

Families are encouraged to have their dinner together in their homes, but they often meet up afterwards in the common areas.

Though he frequently cooks for well-off business people at private dinners, it’s his work at Sophia that gets Kearns up in the morning. “It’s very rewarding,” he said. “It’s as rewarding if not more rewarding to be able to do this. I get a great buzz out of it.”

He describes the centre as being “like an oasis off Cork St” with “just a lovely atmosphere around the place”. He has seen it change over the years, with its expansion making it “a lovely place to work”.

Working on Christmas day

This Christmas day, Kearns will be one of a number of Sophia staff at work. Another is the facilities manager Jim McKee. He’ll be at the front desk, looking after any visitors and making sure everything is running smoothly.

As he showed TheJournal.ie around in mid-December, the staff who usually work at reception chatted about the upcoming holiday, making sure he knew which one was the “comfy chair”. Behind them were the residents’ postboxes, many holding envelopes whose bright red colour hinted that they contained Christmas cards.

“I’m quite happy to give a bit back,” said McKee. Sophia is home to single people, older people, and families, and it’s clear they all see themselves as part of a close community.

This Christmas Day, thanks to Sophia Housing staff like Kearns and McKee, they will be able to enjoy a safe, warm, welcome Christmas, at home.

Read: My Christmas Day: ‘It’s hard for my heart not to break a little bit’>

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