If you’re in any doubt that God is working through his people in the COVID pandemic, the most recent Church Hill lunch for the homeless should get you thinking.
City Care Lunch has been running for eight years, with between 70 and 120 people turning up for a meal and a chat once every two months. Aware that some charities had closed their doors, and determined to provide something for their regulars that followed current distancing restrictions, an appeal went out to the parish for non-perishable groceries and hygiene items.
“People donated more than $5000 so we could go shopping – we didn’t need to use it all,” says assistant minister Paul White. “Tonnes of groceries came in as well, and [grocery] gift cards… A chef from our evening congregation who recently lost his job also offered to prepare a really generous roast beef sandwich and salad in a takeaway box.
“The wonderful thing is that we made up 58 bags, which was simply what we were able to put together from the volume of gifts given. We also received exactly 58 gift cards. And, on the day, we had exactly 58 people come in seeking help – we didn’t have any bags left over and nobody left without one, which was clearly God’s hand in everything and that was really encouraging to us.”
“...we didn’t have any bags left over and nobody left without one, which was clearly God’s hand in everything and that was really encouraging to us.”
At Rough Edges – the café and drop-in centre next to St John’s, Darlinghurst – it’s been a scramble to reorganise how things are done so volunteers are still able to maintain contact with patrons.
“We’ve had to move to a takeaway model, like everyone, so we don’t have those unhurried opportunities to build deeper connections right now,” says Roughie’s community engagement manager, Jen Webster. “People are literally coming to the front door and we ask them what they need – some bread, some yoghurt, a meal – and then we give them the food.
“There are a few familiar faces but, interestingly, there are quite a few new faces as well. I think across the services there’s been about a 20 per cent increase in people coming for help, and obviously some of them have never done this before. They’re not sure how it works or what they can ask for – it’s quite heartbreaking.
“However, so people aren’t feeling disconnected, if they’re happy to give us a name and a number we can provide them with a weekly social call.”
Hub of Hope at All Saints’, Petersham, which supports people in various stages of homelessness, has reorganised its Thursday buffet lunches for boarding house residents into a takeaway meal, popping in a few extras like a roll of toilet paper, a dental mask, the Gospel of Mark, plus information about a visiting pop-up health clinic.
“There’s a lot of anxiety”
Rector the Rev Ben Gray says numbers are well down on what they’d normally see, partly because of the lack of the usual relational time to sit and chat, but also because “these guys spend a lot of time listening to the radio and reading the paper, so they know what’s going on... there’s a lot of anxiety.
“I think a bunch of the people who haven’t been coming have been trying to stay home and I don’t know what they’re doing for food. They’re trying to isolate but what do you do if you live in a boarding house with 14 other guys and you share bathrooms and a kitchen?”
Mr White says that every shopping bag given out at the City Care Lunch included a slip of paper asking people for their name, whether there was any specific help they needed, and a way of making contact. More than a quarter of those who came filled this out.
“...we’re conscious of sharing the gospel with the city in the way that Jesus did – in word and deed.”
“We’re a church in the city and we’re conscious that God’s placed us there for a reason, and we’re conscious of sharing the gospel with the city in the way that Jesus did – in word and deed,” Mr White says. “We’re also conscious that doing good in the community is the start of a social bridge to people who are perhaps interested in Christianity.
“Culturally, this ministry in our church is a really important one. It will be a gateway for people’s generosity and desire to help the marginalised, lift them up out of their situation and show them that the church genuinely loves them, because we were first loved by Jesus. It’s just a holistic thing when it comes to sharing our faith.”
Rough Edges has lost a good deal of its ongoing income because of COVID-19. If you’re interested in supporting its work with the homeless, go to roughedges.org. If you’d like to support City Care or Hub of Hope, contact those parishes directly.
Read more stories like this in May Southern Cross.