Every Thursday CatholicCare Community Kitchen volunteers bring people together by providing a much needed meal and a genuine opportunity to create community.
New diner Mel* said she had been attending for two weeks and had met the loveliest people.
“The food is nice but it’s all about the company. Now I am starting to meet my neighbours and I look forward to coming,” Mel said.
“You don’t feel any stigma. It feels like you are just getting together with a bunch of friends and having a meal.”
Instigated by a group of parishioners who were committed to addressing the need for food support in the local area, the Toronto Community Kitchen opened in December 2019 at the St Joseph’s Community Centre.
Volunteer Bev McWilliam was instrumental in the creation of the kitchen and has been through its many iterations.
“I was looking for something to do, something practical. Food is an essential need, and I wanted to combine the hospitality side of it and bring people into a social space,” Bev said.
“We thought it would help lonely people and hungry people, they are both in need. People who are lonely at home by themselves, elderly people by themselves, single mums who don’t have someone to sit down and have dinner with.”
When COVID arrived in early 2020 the kitchen had to be closed but CatholicCare’s food programs adapted quickly to the new pandemic environment and continued to assist those in trouble. They set up a bulk cooking kitchen and packed individual portions ready for home delivery.
The team from Toronto delivered meals from Edgeworth to Morisset throughout the pandemic.
“This assisted those in financial distress and those who became isolated and anxious during our lockdowns,” Bev said.
“After COVID the need for company and friendship was stronger than ever and we decided to relocate to make ourselves more accessible to the people of Toronto. We moved to the HUB on the Boulevard, right in the middle of town.”
The Kitchen is never certain how many community members will attend each week, but around 12-18 friends are generally guaranteed to come for a meal.
Some are regulars, others attend for just one night.
“It is always special to have someone choose to join us - there is always a story to hear,” Bev said.
Volunteer Leanne said she had been coming to the kitchen since it opened to talk to people and make them feel comfortable.
“For me I live on my own, so it becomes a social outing for me on a Thursday night,” she said.
“A lot of the people who come are regulars, so you get to know them.
That’s really important - it’s about the people and social interaction and being there for other people and hearing what they have to say.”
Belinda* is currently in community housing and knows the value this gathering provides to people who are struggling.
“There have been a few times in my life I have been homeless. I have been sleeping in my car, in caravan parks, in a tent, in hotels and with my dog,” she said.
“I’ve been coming to the kitchen for months and months. Thursday night is my social night to get out of the house and meet people. At the Kitchen they really do care about each other.”
Bev said the support of the Parish was instrumental in keeping the Kitchen running.
“Our parish community supplied almost all the food for the first year of our Kitchen. CatholicCare is now supplying bulk cooked meals. They receive food donations from a number of supermarkets, farmers, butchers and bakeries,” Bev said.
Even a local school gets involved.
St Paul’s Catholic College, Booragul teacher Amanda Nowland said the school’s goal was to contribute to the Kitchen at least twice a year.
Recently St Paul’s students baked and supplied cookies for one of the Thursday night gatherings.
“This project enables our students to develop and practice their cooking skills and also instils a sense of social responsibility,” Amanda said.
“Through this experience, we endeavour to impart the significance of giving back to our local community while emphasising the core values of empathy and kindness.”
For Bev the goal of the Kitchen is fundamentally simple – to foster connections with others.
“When one person honours, serves and supports another person we build a connection. When we build connections, we build a community... one person at a time,” she said.
If you would like to know more about the CatholicCare Community Kitchens, or would like to donate to support its ongoing commitment to the community, please visit catholiccare.org.au
*names have been changed to protect privacy
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