Community votes to feed the homeless

Vulnerable people in West Lake Macquarie are receiving the gift of a safe place to eat after the Catholic Diocese’s Development and Relief Agency (DARA) won $34,000 funding in the My Community Project state government grants.

Once a week, the newly established Toronto Community Kitchen offers a free meal and for a small payment guests can receive a box of groceries. It is a collaboration between DARA and St Joseph’s Catholic Parish, Toronto.

Director of DARA, Gary Christensen, is looking forward to increasing the number of people that can be helped through this new venture.

“This partnership will provide much-needed services to people doing it tough in our local community,” Mr Christensen said. “According to the 2016 census, there were 1747 homeless people in the Hunter region. That is an increase of 12 per cent on the 2011 census figures.

“DARA’s community kitchens not only provide hot nutritious meals, they also provide a safe, non-judgmental space where individuals, couples and families can find support, friendship and importantly referral pathways to social services like the ones offered by CatholicCare Hunter-Manning.

“The Toronto kitchen is truly community driven, with DARA receiving support from the parish, local volunteers and business owners to deliver this vital service.” 

The project is in line with the objectives of the NSW government’s My Community Project scheme, and the people of the Lake Macquarie electorate demonstrated their support through their votes. Three projects in the Lake Macquarie electorate were awarded funding, with the kitchen receiving the most votes out of the 16 projects put forward.

DARA food program co-ordinator Baden Ellis says the funding will cover the cost of 12 months of service, and “is a fantastic opportunity to be able to give to the community, which is what the My Community projects are about”.

“The kitchen is in a bush setting, which is a benefit to our friends using the service, as it is peaceful and private,” Mr Ellis said. “Some of our friends live in their cars. We plan to partner with a community transport organisation to provide rides to and from the kitchen from nearby suburbs.”

This newest community kitchen adds to DARA’s outreach food programs already operating in Islington, Nelson Bay, Raymond Terrace, Woodbury and Maitland.

The aim of each community kitchen is to decrease the financial stress on families, the elderly and those experiencing homelessness. They also provide an opportunity for socialisation and friendship.

Mr Christensen is grateful for all the support DARA receives from the community, saying, “the success of all our community kitchens is driven by the generous support offered by volunteers who operate the service and by local business owners who donate fresh and canned produce every week”.

Toronto Community Kitchen operates every Tuesday evening 5pm-7pm at 140 Wangi Road, Kilaben Bay. For more information on volunteering or donating, see dara.org.au.

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Brooke Robinson Image
Brooke Robinson

Brooke is Content Officer for the Communications Team in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle