Food and friendship
An Anglicare Mobile Community Pantry operating in Bankstown is aiming to provide a source of low-cost food as well as a sense of community, particularly for the growing number of refugees arriving from Syria and Iraq.
The pantry, also run in other locations such as Ropes Crossing, Riverwood, Dundas and Granville, is a van stocked with food provided to low-income people with pension, health care or immigration cards. The Bankstown pantry is based at St Paul’s Anglican Church, and the majority of clients are people from Syria.
“The pantry is a great way to connect with refugees in the area, many of whom struggle to connect with services or even just meet people,” says the rector of Bankstown, the Rev John Bartik. “We also have an opportunity here to show them love on a personal level, and hopefully engage with them about Christianity and Jesus as well.”
Houssun Zakhary is Anglicare’s community settlement worker, and also a Syrian. She says while the pantry is serving the basic need for food, it is also trying to create a community for people who are new to Australian society and hopefully also create long-term connections with Anglican churches.
“The pantry is very much a partnership between the staff at Anglicare and volunteers with the church,” she says.
“Any clients who come are able to meet people at the church and connect up with that. The church itself can provide directly for people who need help or refer them to us if they need assistance they can’t provide, such as immigration assistance. The idea is really to support churches as they connect with the refugees who are moving in next door.”
The Bankstown pantry typically sees 30 to 40 people each time, and most of the clients are families. Alongside the pantry, various personal hygiene and laundry products are available at a nominal cost, with the stall operated by church volunteers. Other church staff and members also regularly attend the MCP to chat with clients and help the work of the pantry run smoothly.
“Many refugees from Syria tend to blend in more, and it’s not always clear when Syrian people might need help or need more community,” Ms Zakhary says. “Many people who left Syria left behind good jobs, educations and homes – lives that are not too different from what many Australians would know – and they left because of their safety.
“Cost of living is high in Sydney, and trying to juggle all that while learning the system, a language and the worry of family who are back home can be difficult. We can help by supporting basic needs, but also by inviting Syrian people to be a part of our communities in our churches.”
Photo: A Bankstown church volunteer chats to a local on Anglicare’s community pantry day.