Sharing the love in Lithgow
Lithgow is a town where shops close rather than open, so to say locals are pretty excited about the opening of a new Anglicare store is an understatement.
“It’s a big deal in lots of ways,” says the rector of St Paul’s, Lithgow, the Rev Mark Smith. “There are a lot of empty shops on the main street… so it’s exciting to have an investment in our town and it speaks to hope and optimism and care that people would want to start something in Lithgow.
“But more importantly than that is the care for people as a whole. It’s not just ‘We want to sell you something and we’ll see you later’, but creating space for people to have their kids play, to have a coffee and make connections – so it’s about meeting relational needs as well.
“The people who come in might be doing it a bit financially tough and that often isolates you in other ways. [The idea behind the shop is] we want to welcome you as a whole person and care for you as a whole person.”
It’s Anglicare Sydney’s 19th shop but its first new style of store, which the head of retail, Stephen Kuo, describes as “more intentionally missional”.
“[We chose] Lithgow because, firstly, it’s an area of need – socially and spiritually,” he says. “Also it’s quite an isolated place… and as part of the new Anglicare we’re looking to expand our care within the Diocese. We engaged with Mark at the church and he was also keen to work with us so we took things from there.”
The idea behind the new model is that an Anglicare shop will do much more than just sell clothes. The Lithgow store also has a kids’ play space, a coffee bar and lounge area, as well as a linked food pantry.
“We are trialling [the pantry] across some of our other shops but it’s a very new thing,” Mr Kuo says. “So someone can come in and for $10 and fill up a bag with food that can have a value of up to $60.
“Part of the benefit of this is that they don’t need to show a social security card – it’s open to anyone. We know there are a lot of people who are doing it tough who haven’t qualified for one of these cards, so we’re trying to care for that part of the community as well. We’re aware there will always be an element in the community that will take advantage of this, but we don’t want that small group to, I guess, bar others from benefiting from what we’re doing.”
Another important element is a part-time pastoral worker, whose role will be funded by the shop. Mr Kuo says it’s not an evangelistic role but an opportunity to “show the love of Jesus” to the community.
“The shop is safe, neutral territory, in a sense,” he says. “Being a retail and hospitality space… it’s somewhere the community feels comfortable to come in and shop and it’s a place where you can just naturally have conversations. More often than not people will talk about life and challenges, and so there are also great opportunities to talk about God in a non-confrontational way.”
The shop will have links to the local jail, helping to provide clothes for inmates upon their release, and there’s also an ongoing conversation with the Lithgow parish about further opportunities to link its people with the work of the shop.
“Plenty of people in our church family have offered to be volunteers,” Mark Smith says. “We’re certainly talking with Anglicare about what things we can do as church members for the shop, and how the shop can promote what’s happening in the church – just making those connections. What’s really exciting is their fresh vision to work through churches rather than just alongside them.
“Our area is an area of high need… [but for Anglicare] it was not a matter of the difficulty or the cost: they wanted to come and make it happen.”
The numbers – and people – behind Anglicare’s Winter Appeal
- The 2018 fundraising goal is $1.7 million.
- Money raised goes to the Food and Financial Assistance Program.
- Nearly 1000 people received more than 2000 food parcels in May.
- Financial help with utility bills was given to 343 people in May, and this number rises further in winter due to heating costs.
- About 1200 clients a month are helped through Anglicare’s Fresh Food Program.
- In May, 574 bags of food were sold through its Mobile Community Pantry vans, in 35 parishes across the Diocese.
- Anglicare buys about three pallets (or 180 boxes) of food each week from Foodback to stock the MCP vans.