Uniting, Anglican and Catholic churches in Richmond share a long history of ecumenical collaboration. One way the churches offer pastoral outreach to the local community is through the Richmond Churches Food Centre. For more than 30 years, the centre has provided food and companionship to homeless and disadvantaged people in the area.
The program was initiated by Anglican Archdeacon Marjorie McGregor (Australia’s first female Archdeacon) in the 1980s. It began as a mission of St Stephen’s Anglican Church but has since grown to include six more churches, including Richmond Uniting Church.
The centre now operates out of St Ignatius Catholic Church on Mondays and Fridays from 9:30am to 2pm. It is administered by the ministers of the churches and staffed by volunteers from the congregations and wider community.
Every week, volunteers pack and distribute more than a thousand bags of food. The food is mainly sourced from FoodBank, FareShare and Second Bite. These organisations collect surplus food from supermarkets, farmers and manufacturers and redistribute them to people in need. Church members also donate weekly groceries and some local schools organise ‘can drives’ for the centre.
Rev Dr Sally Douglas, minister at Richmond Uniting Church, described the food centre as a “humble, grassroots community”.
“It’s not just a little bit of food for a handful of people; the numbers are increasing all the time. Now there are 200-300 people coming on a Monday and another 200-300 coming on a Friday,” she said.
“When people get their food security, it’s enough to sustain a family for probably nearly a week.”
Visitors to the food centre come from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. They include single mothers, newly-arrived migrants, homeless people, families and pensioners.
Some of the volunteers are people who experienced homelessness in the past and sought assistance at the food centre. Many of them understand the challenges of homelessness and the importance of a social support network. In addition to providing food security, the food centre also offers companionship to those who may be socially isolated.
“It’s about serving the community and working together,” Dr Douglas said.
“It’s really respectful and non-paternalistic in the way we share the food because it’s also about asking ‘how are you?’ and having a chat. Richmond Uniting is really rapt to be a part of this program.”