Give a man a lunch and he has one good meal a day, teach him to shop smart and cook and you feed him for a lifetime.
This is the direction St George’s Uniting Church Eden and the Eden Community Garden in collaboration with Anglicare and Workways are heading in following a $10,000 grant to expand the kitchen and provide life skills workshops in Eden.
The sharing of knowledge, food and life skills through the huge vegetable garden and church hall has been a focus for the church for five years as it responds to community needs, including homelessness and high costs of living.
Pastor Pam Skelton said up to 20 people a week come for a healthy meal, some fresh vegetables to take home and good company on the hall’s sundrenched deck.
Men and women, some of them elderly, or participants in jobseeker programs, or doing community service, all contribute in some way.
“Our main focus is providing a sense of place, of belonging in a respectful way,” Pam said.
“In a community people find solutions, but on your own you are isolated.
“Sometimes people are tentative about being involved, we hope we can make people feel welcome regardless of their circumstances.”
Some people are referred by Anglicare’s Sapphire Surprises shop in Imlay Street and others just follow the age old tradition of going to the church in times of need.
Pam said people on low-incomes who typically purchase pre-prepared food often find themselves in need of food assistance.
She hopes the new kitchen will help facilitate change.
“We’ve made a few inroads in that department on Mondays with the lunches,” she said.
“Often initially participants say, ‘Oh, no I’ll go up the street’ and they get a hamburger, some chips and a soft drink, so part of it is introducing people to simple, home-cooked food.
“When they taste it they say, ‘Oh, it’s really nice, how do you make that?’”
While the workshops will to improve people’s independence Pam says affordable housing is a major issue, followed by supporting people with mental health issues.
She says some families she sees are “service-shy” and confused by the different services on offer across the shire.
“People have often said what we need is a one-stop shop for all different services – the Hotel Australasia would be wonderful, instead of shuffling people about to Bega and Merimbula.”
At times, she has taken people into her home.
One passing family with children stayed for six months looking desperately for work and unable to afford even a berth in a caravan park.
“Continually moving on is a short term solution but does nothing to address the underlying issues of lack of affordable housing, employment, and connections with community,” she said.
“We are not the only ones to have taken people in, on most occasions its fine but it’s a fall back mechanism that is less than ideal.”
Pam said local churches are really working hard with other agencies to address homelessness and mental health issues, a mission made harder by today’s smaller congregations and volunteer bodies.
“We are looking at models of how churches at the local level and at a state and national level have addressed these problems, because there are there are interesting initiatives and additional resources at all those levels,” she said.
“It’s a great thing to see collaborative models at work.”
Community members are welcome to contribute to life skills workshops at the Eden Community Garden. Contact St George’s Uniting Church on 6496 2501.