Alison Cullen, Coffee Shop and Family Centre
Q. What year did you join Focus Ireland & what service/department?
A. I joined Focus Ireland on January 7th, 2003. I joined a reconfigured catering team as a Catering Team Leader. At the time, the Coffee Shop was transitioning into a 7-day service as it was realised that it was needed – homelessness didn’t pause at the weekend.
Q. What does your job normally entail?
A. There are a couple of parts to my normal job, but mainly managing the catering team, some parts of my role include ensuring all standards are implemented, both food safety and hygiene standards. We are held to the same standard as any commercial kitchen and take pride in the fact that we go above and beyond regarding food safety and food quality for our customers. I manage the team who are the ones who make this happen 7 days per week.
Q. How has your job changed during the public health crisis?
A. We have gone through a number of changes during the pandemic, right now we have settled on a takeaway service, customers present to our door and get a hot dinner to takeaway with fruit and a drink. This in itself looks grand but we have had to scale back all we do to the bare minimum, normally we would have breakfast, homemade desserts, tea and coffee just like a “normal” coffee shop.
Q. What do you find is the most difficult thing to adapt to during this time?
A. Before the health crisis, a huge part of our job was social interaction and the chat with the customers, normally they’d have a safe place to come in, sit down, relax, enjoy their meal, but due to the health crisis we have had to change all of this, which has been the hardest part. Seeing people having to stand on the street and eat their dinner will never be okay with me.
We totally understand the need to implement these changes and we were happy to do whatever it took to keep serving hot dinners to people experiencing homelessness at a time when it is so needed. I also miss a lot of our office mates, it’s tough not seeing your colleagues. It really is a team effort and we support each other, especially when you are dealing with the realities of what some people have to face on a day to day basis in our society.
Q. What’s your favourite Focus Ireland memory or experience?
A. Oh now to name but one, there are so man! I have made some of my closest friends during my time here in Focus Ireland, some of whom are still working here and some who have moved on but still remain in my close friend’s circle.
I have so many fantastic memories but I am going to go all-out celeb on this and say meeting Mr Richard Gere was the highlight; not because the teenage girl inside me thought she had won the lotto but seeing the empathy and kindness which he spoke with to the people he met, he told a lovely story about his own father and working for meals on wheels. It was just such a wonderful equaliser and to me a highlight of my time here in Focus Ireland.
Q. If you had to give your 18-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
A. You are such a strong, resilient person who can do whatever you put your mind to. Believe in yourself… oh yes and some day you will meet Richard Gere!