These students are with the student association R.S.V. Sanctus Laurentius and Stichting Voormekaar, a foundation that is part of Laurentius with the goal of helping the less fortunate in Rotterdam. “This isn’t the first dinner we’ve organised but it is our first time here at CVD De Hille”, explains Lisa Nÿe, a Laurentius board member and Business Administration student. The dinner for the homeless is just one of the students’ many different activities. “We also collect money and clothing to donate”, says student Leontine Cobben, who is part of the organising committee. “Our focus isn’t only homeless people, but other disadvantaged groups like children and the elderly as well.” What’s more, Stichting Voormekaar expects to undertake even more activities in the future: “We want to organise a dinner here and another one in Kralingen on the same night later this year”, Sabine Splinter, another Laurentius board member, adds.

This time, the dinner is taking place at CVD (short for Centrum Voor Dienstverlening) De Hille, a homeless shelter that works together with the municipality of Rotterdam and offers homeless people 48 beds on its premises. According to one of its employees, Marianne, the shelter also wants to help its clients get back on their feet. “The first steps are simple: a shower, food, and a bed for the night. After that, if a person sleeps here on a more regular basis, they’re offered an appointment with a counsellor who will help them with money, insurance, and other basic things. The goal is to eventually help people get back to living independently.”

Tasting the end product. Image credit: Iida Riikinsaari

Contemplating life

As dinner time gets closer, the atmosphere in the kitchen grows more hectic. With help from the CVD chef, the students chop up chicken, cook vegetables and prepare baguettes in the oven. As the kitchen fills up with happy chatter and steam from the large pots on the stove, people start to gather at the dining tables. Finally, dinner is served and as they carry full bowls of soup and plates of spaghetti to the tables, the students engage in conversations with the homeless.

Sabine engaged in conversations with the homeless. Image credit: Iida Riikinsaari

“I took food to a table and people asked me for my name and introduced themselves”, Marieke, an IBCoM student volunteering at the event, mentions. “Everyone is really nice to us.” The conversations also have the students wondering more deeply about life: “I talked to a man who has been homeless since he got divorced a while back”, Sabine recalls as she returns to the kitchen. “It’s surprising when you think about how little it can actually take to lose your home.”

The food itself also seems to please the diners: “This was very good! Thank-you girls”, a woman says, smiling, as she returns her empty plate.

After the main course, it’s time for dessert. Despite the rain that has been pouring all day, ice cream proves a popular choice as many come for a second helping. An employee urges the crowd to give the students a round of applause and a couple of the clients invite the students to take part in a group photo. Eventually, the common room clears out, the tables are being wiped down and the last empty bowls loaded to the dishwasher. Slightly tired but happy, a couple of students stand in the kitchen, looking back on the night. “I feel great”, says Lisa. “We did something good.”