Food is a basic human need. Catholic parishes across Victoria provide food support to people in need, in a variety of ways.
There are a number of Food Banks that depend on parish support. Programs vary but the essential model is the same. Churches provide a venue, volunteers provide labour and various support organisations provide nutritious food, transport of goods and financial support to help the programs run smoothly.
In Richmond, six parishes of different denominations have joined forces to provide fresh, frozen and canned food, and other needs such as baby products. The centre is open two or three days each week providing services for pensioners, healthcare card holders and refugees. Another inter-faith program exists in the Torquay area, involving six parishes and a Community House. Food parcels are packed and delivered by volunteers weekly. Another food bank is operating in Frankston.
In Bacchus Marsh, The Neighbours Place has been operating since 1996. An ecumenical initiative of five Christian Churches (Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Progressive Home Church and Uniting), the centre provides emergency food supplies and a drop in centre for social contact. According to St Bernard’s Bacchus Marsh parishioner Brendan Harrison: ‘We aim to provide a Christian response to those in need within our community. The particular need we most focus on is “feeding the hungry” but we aim to do so in a non-judgmental and welcoming way. We often find that many of our clients are as in need of feeding their spirits by the welcome, acceptance and connection to community, as they are of feeding the physical with food.’ In 2015 The Neighbours Place provided assistance to 1007 adults and 924 children.
‘If the belly’s full, then other problems are not so great’. This observation by Garry Mcilvena, co-ordinator of The Pantry, a community based food bank project run by St Mary of the Angels Parish in Geelong, reflects the philosophy behind food support offered in many Victorian parishes. Volunteers from St Marys in Geelong also help to serve breakfast seven days a week at the local Church of Christ which also has a food store.
The various food banks draw on a range of community resources to stock their shelves. Local businesses including supermarkets and caterers are frequently very generous when they are approached for donations. Many food banks are supported by the organisation Second Bite, which collects and distributes fresh produce from farmers, wholesalers and retailers. The Second Bite centre in Kensington has five vans and one truck to transport food and relies on 23 staff and over 600 volunteers to support its activities. Food that would otherwise be wasted now finds its way to those in need.
Schools and parishes in areas where food banks operate also support the programs with food collections and fundraising activities. Most food is donated, but funds are also required to help occasional ‘top-up purchasing’ and with administrative costs.
Staffing of food banks and other services is largely the work of volunteers. At Bacchus Marsh, the centre is managed by a co-ordinator and staffed three days a week by three or four volunteers.. Most centres provide training for volunteers and emphasise that the work of food banks is as much about social contact as it is about meeting the food needs of families. Food banks and other food support services provide a practical avenue for parishes to reach out to the community. Increasingly, co-operation among churches of different denominations is also helping to build strong inter-faith relationships.
Food banks are important, but they are only one way in which parishes across Victoria engage with food needs. There is also the extensive contribution of the St Vincent de Paul Society through their soup vans project, Ozanam Community Centre and numerous parish-based Vinnies conferences, some of which include food and other stores. There are the meals centres conducted by Sacred Heart Mission, St Mary’s House of Welcome and others, which are supported by many parishes. Many other organisations provide food provision support to those in need, whether they be homeless, unemployed, refugees or otherwise needing a hand up.
This is a rich, diverse picture. Thanks to all who play a part in it. With thanks to Geraldine Carrodus.