‘The number of fellows living in their cars who say they never expected to find themselves in this place! Our mantra is “it’s not just about the food” because the way people are treated with respect is just as important.’ Jan McGowan tells us about the Christ Church Community Meals Program. ‘I grew up in East Geelong. Mum was a teacher. I went on to become a teacher myself, teaching all around Geelong and loving every minute of it. I gave up teaching to do this. Out of the blue, last year I received an OAM. I love working with like-minded people who are willing to go the extra mile.’
‘The Meals program began 27 years ago when Father Barry Smith started the Breakfast program. There would be two people on duty and in the early days we would serve cereal with cold milk, toast (made in a borrowed toaster) and tea or coffee. After about 6 months we were again given a second-hand microwave and volunteers added an occasional treat on special occasions. It was around this time we saw a need for an evening meal.
‘We never refuse to serve anyone and we don’t ask questions. If people come to us they must have a need of some kind, if it isn’t the food, then perhaps it is the need for someone to talk to.
‘Now we usually have about 30-40 for breakfast seven days a week, including Good Friday and Christmas Day. The Samaritan House fellows get dropped off here every day. We do evening meals Wednesdays and, thanks to St John of God Pathology, Rotary groups and COGG staff, we’ve been running Monday nights as well for the last 7 years. These serve about 100 with an increasing number of families. We have wonderful support from St Mary’s Parish who do every second Wed of the month – they call it our RDO. Father Barry never expected it to go on this long. Takeaway is available for those who can’t deal with crowds of people.
‘One fellow told one of our volunteers ‘I just wanted to say thank-you because I came in here feeling suicidal but you made me feel better. It wasn’t just the food, it was the way I was treated.’
‘Another time I was mopping the floor at the end of the night when a fellow came in: “You’re not mopping the right way,” he said. “I learnt all about mopping when I was in A Division at Pentridge.”
‘I’ll never forget the man who said ‘I’ll do the vacuuming for you, I’ve got plenty of time as Court isn’t open yet’. I’m not sure if his mismatched blue suit, white pointy shoes, collar and tie impressed the Magistrate as I haven’t seen him since.’
‘School groups, who help on a regular basis, come from Saint Ignatius College Geelong, Sacred Heart College Geelong, St Joseph’s College Geelong, Christian College Geelong, Kardinia International College and individuals from other schools as well. We had a Belmont High School (Victoria) boy who took to it like a duck to water.
‘There is so much community support from service clubs, individuals, other churches and businesses such as Patrick Rowan and Associates. Robbie, from King of the Castle Cafe, came with a new idea. As he is time poor he Instagrams his clients to collect items we need. One month he collected 138 cans of International Roast Coffee.
‘MC Herds donates high quality meat monthly and we cater for vegetarians. SecondBite makes regular deliveries. Brumby’s (Geelong Victoria) have donated 6 sliced loaves every day for years. Harvey’s of Highton donates fresh vegetables. We’ve just received a $5,000 grant from Give Where You Live Foundation to purchase fresh fruit so we plan to make smoothies as well as offering soft fruit for eating.
‘http://www.christchurchgeelong.com.au/ We meet some lovely people. The team spirit is what attracts and keeps volunteers. We ask them to taste and see before committing. We are aware there would be more efficient ways of serving such a large number of meals but our aim is to keep the atmosphere welcoming and homely. We enjoy the organised chaos!’
Photo: Phil Hines Photography