The Forster Tuncurry Community Kitchen will open in July in the parish hall at 33 Lake Street, Forster. It will serve lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays between noon and 1pm.
Parish Priest Fr Greg Barker said that the parish has had a couple of turns at starting a community based kitchen from the Parish Hall. “There are a lot of hidden homelessness here, as well as from time to time people who need a help up,” he said.
“No one organisation can do everything so it was wonderful to be able to meet with CatholicCare and build on their work in Taree and to translate some of that to here in Forster Tuncurry,” Fr Barker said.
CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning director Gary Christensen says the community kitchen adds to CatholicCare's suite of programs that support vulnerable people in local communities.
“The Forster Tuncurry Community Kitchen will support people who are experiencing homelessness, domestic and family violence, mental health issues and any number of other vulnerabilities,” he said.
“It provides hot nutritious meals and importantly it is a soft entry point where people can access additional services such as counselling and mental health support as well as referrals to other services.”
CatholicCare staff and volunteers are responsible for ensuring the kitchen meets the needs of the local community and provides a friendly, warm and welcoming service to vulnerable people, but they are not alone. The parish will provide the facilities and some volunteers, and they welcome collaboration with the local primary school.
When principal of Holy Name Primary School, Forster, Brooke Stephens, heard about the planned community kitchen, she jumped at the chance for the school to be part of it.
“One of Holy Name Primary School’s goals is to develop the concepts of 'service' and 'action' within our community,” she said.
“Our aim is for students who graduate from Holy Name to be young Catholic leaders who know and understand the needs of those around them and of their capacity to change things by their words and actions.”
Students in each year will contribute to a shared garden, which will provide food for the community kitchen.
“We have a program where each class from Kinder to Year 6 is responsible for the growing and harvesting of produce in a garden bed to support the community kitchen,” Ms Stephens said. “For the past couple of months our produce has been delivered to the Taree Community Kitchen, but now it will be taken to the Forster Tuncurry Community Kitchen.”
The school will not just deliver the ingredients; students will also help cook the meals.
“Our school has a strong Mini Vinnies program for students in Years 5 and 6,” Ms Stephens said. “We hope to build on the service model of this program by rostering our Year 5 and 6 students to help in the preparation of food in the community kitchen. Our students have the kitchen skills that will enable them to support our parish and CatholicCare.”
Fr Barker hopes the kitchen will help the community “to be and do what Jesus asks of us. To feed the hungry, comfort the sick and visit those who are imprisoned by either their loneliness or their need.”
“I think it will be another sign of the generosity and compassion of the people who call this place home,” Fr Barker said. “It was extraordinary to watch during the drought and then the fires how the people here pulled together to help out. They were so generous in response to calls for help across the district and beyond during the drought, sending food, supplies and money to the hardest hit and then to back that up with what the fires and its devastation demanded of us.”
CatholicCare is seeking more volunteers to help run the kitchen and be required to pick up food donations and prepare and serve meals. A volunteer information session will be held at the parish hall on Wednesday 10 June at 10am.
Mr Christensen said the role would suit anyone over 16 who has time to give.
"You need to be friendly, be able to connect with people, and if you can cook that's a bonus," he said. “It is my hope that the Forster Tuncurry Community Kitchen will be a volunteer-led place of welcome and safety where people can come, be accepted, have a hot nutritious meal and access the supports they need.”