‘A pub with no beer’ aptly describes the former Argyle Arms Hotel in Hamilton, now the proud home to the Argyle UCA Op Shop.
To all bower birds who love to pick over former treasures, this store will truly bedazzle. With room after room of ‘stuff’, including a backyard also appropriately cluttered, shoppers are sure to find a bargain.
My visit to the shop during a trip to western Victoria was organised by Synod Standing Committee member and long-term resident of Hamilton, John Diprose OAM. He is delighted with the success of the Argyle.
“As all items are donated they can be priced to move quickly,” he explained “and in some cases may be given away to people in extreme need.”
The unruly Argyle stands in stark contrast to the Warrnambool UC Op Shop, also a new initiative for the congregation. This op shop is as neat as a pin, taking up two shop fronts, making me wonder whether op shops take on the personality of their owners/managers.
Wendy Crofts, the op shop manager, whispered in my ear that she feels 34 instead of 70-something.
Warrnambool minister Rev Geoff Barker said Wendy manages the op shop four-and-a-half days a week and volunteers at another church activity on the other half day.
Both op shops fund mission activities.
Warrnambool UC feeds up to 80 local people at its weekly community lunch, an initiative introduced by Mr Barker nine years previously, and strongly supported by church members who volunteer as welcomers, ‘bottle washers’, servers and musicians.
I found the environment welcoming and the food delicious, a labour of love by chef Kristie Ann Kelp.
Apart from attending the community lunch, I managed to squeeze in a visit to Food Share, Heatherlie Homes, whale watching (no luck), participated in children’s meditation and gate crashed a home group monthly dinner.
And that was Wednesday. Thursday included travelling to Hamilton UC to witness a Mother Goose children’s music session, the food distribution program, a trip to the pub with no beer and a personalised tour of The Hamilton and Alexandra College by the principal, Dr Andrew Hirst.
Warrnambool and District Food Share is the largest food distribution centre in the region. Although it is not a Uniting Church initiative, the warehouse in which it resides has been made available to Food Share by the Warrnambool UC at a peppercorn rent.
Executive Officer Dedy Friebe, a former school principal, is another highly-driven and passionate individual who has been running the logistics, rosters, deliveries, gifts and all other aspects of the warehouse for several years.
Gesturing around the shiny warehouse, Mr Friebe said: “none of this would have been possible without the help of the Uniting Church.”
“The Uniting Church in Warrnambool as we know is a very quiet achiever – it works in the background and it does marvellous community support work and welfare work,” she said
In Hamilton the following day, I witnessed food slated for the UC’s Second Bite delivery service arriving from the Warrnambool Food Share.
Roger Thompson OAM, coordinator of the Second Bite service, said they rely heavily on the fortnightly delivery which comes from Food Share.
They also collect bread from local bakeries and cafes and a range of products from all the local supermarkets.
“We deliver to about 90 families a week, including in Coleraine and Casterton. We’ve got quite a network assisting,” Mr Thompson explained.
The list of hamper recipients is provided by the local Salvo housing office. Mr Thompson said occasionally people will let them know of families who are doing it a bit hard and they follow up.
Before I left the district I caught up with the chairperson of the Henty region, Elaine Edwards and local minister Rev Will Pickett. The Henty region is in the process of creating three clusters and Ms Edwards says they are each going to have two names – an Anglo name and an Indigenous name.
Mr Pickett said that actually walking together means to join hands and to be there supporting one another 100 per cent in every situation.
“Christ said in John 17 to walk as one. It’s easy to accomplish when you have a right mindset and a right attitude to where you want to go into the future,” Mr Pickett said.