Hot food and kind words on a cold winter’s day nourish the bodies and souls of the vulnerable men, women and children who sit to eat at Taree Community Kitchen.
Today it will be the hands of St Clare’s High School year 10 hospitality students that work to prepare and serve the food that is offered at the kitchen to people under financial stress. It is a weekly commitment to service that “welcomes the stranger”, says principal Peter Nicholls, “and ensures that our neighbours are treated with dignity and respect. We want our young people to be the change they want to see in the world."
The need for change to support homeless men and women, families in crisis and victims of domestic violence is significant in the Taree community and the kitchen meets a critical need for food and is also a safe place for connection to support services offered by CatholicCare and other agencies in the Manning Valley.
The work of volunteers in the kitchen is vital and there is a need to increase the number of days it is open to serve lunch, says acting director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning, Gary Christensen.
“Today it will open from noon until 1pm and for some people it may be the only good meal they eat until we again open at noon on Monday,” Mr Christensen said. “It is not ideal but it is the best we can do.”
The menu is dependent on the food donated by local Manning Valley businesses and volunteers work to create meals to feed an unknown number of people, “some days it can be as few as 19 meals, and other days as many as 46 meals,” Mr Christensen said.
Around 2700 meals have been served at the kitchen since January 1 and for the most part it has been done by the hands of school students and 43 regular volunteers.
"We're so pleased to have St Clare's students involved each week, cooking and serving meals to locals. With the ongoing support from the school the kitchen is able to open to the community each week,” Mr Christensen said.
“In Taree our homeless are not as visible as in metropolitan areas, it’s not as in your face, you might see an occasional person in a park, and recently I’ve seen one guy in front of Two Hans holding a sign, it’s very different to a city but that does not mean it is not an issue, it is just hidden.”
Mr Christensen stresses that it is not only our homeless men and women who sit to eat at the kitchen.
“Our volunteers serve families living rough in cars because they got behind in their rent, or women and children fleeing domestic violence situations, or families who are struggling to put food on the table - there are so many people in our community who are vulnerable.”
Mr Christensen said partnerships were crucial to the operation of the kitchen and cited the support of 14 regular food donors who contributed on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. He would like to see similar partnerships developed with Manning Valley businesses.
Mr Christensen said the time commitment of volunteers supporting a shift at the kitchen was around four hours and at least four people were needed to run a food service.
To register interest in becoming a volunteer or donor contact CatholicCare on 6539 5900.