The Valletta Soup Kitchen has been awarded the European Citizen’s Prize, an annual prize awarded to projects that make outstanding contributions to the promotion of common values and fundamental rights.
The Soup Kitchen, which is run by the Franciscan Friars, offers meals, bathroom facilities and access to healthcare and social workers to materially deprived people.
The prize is awarded by the European Parliament every year, to an individual or entity in each EU member state. Malta's winner in 2022 was The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.
Accepting the prize in a ceremony on Friday, Soup Kitchen director Fr Marcellino Micallef said that the project acts as a safe harbour where those in need can find an ear that listens and an open heart.
“Every day we meet our brothers who have their good and bad qualities, as we all do, and more importantly we strive to form a personal relationship with every single one of them,” Micallef said.
“We try to achieve this by giving these people a voice, hearing their stories, learning from their experiences, understanding their needs, becoming their friends and receiving the mysterious wisdom that God wished to impart through them.”
Micallef said that all in society should strive to “spread goodness” through acts of service and do their best to keep their arms open for those struggling to keep their heads above the water.
He also thanked the “army” of volunteers who show up daily to make the soup kitchen a reality as well as the benefactors who make running the project possible.
The soup kitchen, Micallef continued, is home to people of all beliefs and also those with no beliefs, because compassion for humanity transcends differences.
“The number of people in our society who discard the poor is not little,” Micallef said.
“Every day you hear stories of people who ended up without a roof over their head and are living on the streets, sleeping in their cars or squatting in some abandoned place.”
“The only thing that these people need is love and care. I wish for everyone to have a proper roof over their heads, the hundreds who sleep outdoors and the thousands who are living in a garage. Till yesterday I was still dreaming, but today the dream is slowly becoming a reality."
PN MEP David Casa, who nominated the project for the prize, congratulated the Soup Kitchen on their win.
“I congratulate Fr Marcellino for the well-deserved recognition of his efforts during these past challenging years. Through his work, the Soup Kitchen upheld the dignity of those who found themselves in a vulnerable situation when they had nowhere else to turn,” Casa said.
However, Casa continued, the fact that the safety net of the Soup Kitchen has become a societal need is a clear sign of policy failure.
“Nobody should need to rely on soup kitchens to feed their children,” he said.
“Poverty needs to be addressed effectively, and the need for soup kitchens is a sign that the system has failed.”
While noting the need to enact policy with a much stronger social conscience, Casa commended Fr Marcellino for ensuring that “indifference did not trump solidarity”.