The Gassenküche has a new home. And it is something to see. The soup kitchen has moved to Märkgräflerstrasse 14a in the Klybeck quarter after a long period of operation on Lindenberg. "The move is a stroke of luck for us," says Bensegger as he tours the newly renovated hall in St. Joseph's. The 200-square-metre space is bright, clean and inviting. The hall is more like a canteen than a soup kitchen for needy people. "A canteen for special people," says Bensegger with a grin.
Andy Bensegger is thrilled with the ambience. There's no comparison with the conditions at the old location. "It was crowded and noisy on Lindenberg. People quickly clashed with one another." The new premises not only offer more space for the visitors, but also improved working conditions for the seven-member team. "The reconstruction allowed us to adapt the infrastructure according to our wishes." A generous serving counter allows for an orderly flow, a powerful dishwasher makes washing up easier, and the steamer can be used to quickly heat up dishes. The only thing missing is the kitchen. "The meals are freshly prepared in the kitchen of the Union Community Centre and delivered from there to the Gassenküche." This is not a problem as the Union kitchen is just a stone's throw away from St. Joseph's.
The move, however, did not go entirely smoothly. It was a lot of hard work for the team. In the middle of the rebuild, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, putting a stop to everything. "And when we started at the new location on 1 March 2021, we were not allowed to offer more than 30 places because of safety regulations and social distancing rules." Andy Bensegger and his team adapted, switching to take-away services. But now the two-shift operation is running smoothly again. From Monday to Friday, breakfast is free and dinner costs three francs. The daily average: 70 breakfasts and 150 dinners. That's much more than on Lindenberg. Bensegger compares the scale of the operation to that of a large canteen. And soon they will be adding a third shift. "We'll soon be offering Sunday brunches again."
Bensegger says he expects up to 100 additional guests on Sundays. That makes him happy. With the move into the new premises, the clientele has also changed. "The proportion of women has increased markedly." At the old location, women and older people tended to stay away. But one thing remains the same at the new location. "We don't ask guests why they are here or where they come from." Here, no one must go hungry, regardless of whether they are welfare recipients, pensioners, job seekers, drug addicts or alcoholics.
Andy Bensegger came to his job in a roundabout way. He trained in office administration and worked in the tourism sector for a long time. He joined the Gassenküche about ten years ago. He can't remember the exact date. He came on board as part of the extended team until assuming general management in 2018. He sees himself as part of the team. As director, he has to make sure that the operation runs smoothly. "I am frequently in contact with the Board of Directors, taking care of finances, administration, public relations and personnel issues" that affect the seven-member team; he also coordinates the activities of the organisation's 50 volunteers and the guests. The guests help with setting up and clearing the tables. In return, they receive a supplement of 12 francs per hour. "This supervised participation gives people structure," says Bensegger. And if someone doesn't show up to work for a few days, they need not fear any consequences.
Andy Bensegger has been able to raise the Gassenküche to a new and more professional level, and the financing to a solid and secure basis. And he knows that he has a well-functioning team behind him. This team is essential to the success of the Gassenküche. The two professionals in the kitchen, for example. The trained chefs do the shopping and menu planning, conjuring up a different meal with soup, salad, main course, dessert and tea for the guests every weekday. "Those who can't afford the three francs will get soup, salad, bread and drink for free." The quantities of vegetables and meat are large. Bensegger says that they buy at special prices. The bread comes from the "Schweizer Tafel" (Swiss Food Bank), which distributes surplus goods from the large distributors to the Gassenküche every day. Fifty volunteers also help out. "Many of them have been with us for a long time. They know how to work with the guests."
The Gassenküche aims to be not just a place where needy people come for a meal, but also a place where they can come inside to rest a bit. This is evident from the queue that has formed half an hour before the doors open again this evening. The perception of harmony may give a false impression, says Bensegger, "but these are people who are affected by poverty." Bensegger is popular amongst the clientele, this evening as well, and he listens to everyone. For example, to the five ladies at the women's table, sitting down with them and asking if they're enjoying the bami goreng. Hilde, Sonja, Elisabeth, Sönne and Rösli nod and are happy to talk. Sonja is at the Gassenküche almost every evening. "I just don't like to eat dinner alone," says the lively and fit 88-year-old. Sönne, on the other hand, is here tonight with her mother. She talks about her life, about how she suffers from depression and how the Gassenküche provides support. She also regularly helps out in the kitchen. The new location has inspired an enormous impetus for renewal and a new, more peaceful dynamic, says Bensegger. It is in line with his understanding that the Gassenküche serve as a kind of living room for people who are often forgotten and who are severely affected by poverty.