from Bret and Tamara Clarke
During 2022, Forster Tuncurry Church of Christ used a ministry grant to create a weekly space for the local community to gather and meet their physical and spiritual needs. Bret and Tamara reflect on this project, its impact, and what they’ve learned along the way.
We were fortunate to receive a $10,000 grant last year to help fund a morning brunch alongside our Community Pantry program. This has enabled us to feed up to 60 people every Monday and create a new dimension to the Community Pantry which makes it function a lot better for participants and volunteers.
Once we implemented the brunch, we noticed that guests were a lot calmer, they embraced community, they were more willing to engage in spiritual conversations (and programs that we put on during the pantry times, e.g. Alpha), and they were able to make clearer decisions when in the pantry.
One of the elements that we have included in the pantry is the ability to be involved in spiritual conversations. This usually follows a program (like Alpha, Journeys, or similar) that offers an open conversation for people to ask questions about faith, life, and spirituality. With a full stomach from the brunch, people are not in such a hurry to take off after receiving their food, enabling them to stay longer to join these conversations.
We were planning to have a break in Term 2 from this element of the pantry, however the demand is high from the community to continue these conversations! There are also further opportunities for people to engage in this type of conversation, including church services, regular church BBQ’s, and volunteering.
It is hard work to start up a program and set up a team from scratch. There are many questions that pop up as you are working things out and doing it on the run can make things a little more challenging. However, once these things are in place and functioning, it frees up more space to engage with people and see where God is leading conversations.
The biggest surprise was the reticence of the existing pantry participants to have the brunch start. On reflection we recognize that the original attendees had marked the pantry location as their ‘safe space’, which is always hard to invite others into.
The other surprise was the level of buy-in the community members have had in being involved in set-up and pack-down for the day. People will arrive early to help put out tables/chairs/gazebos and sometimes not even take anything from the pantry for themselves. Others will remain long after many have left to help pack everything up because they value their own involvement in this space.
The pantry has been running since the return from Covid. With the rising cost of living, many people are so appreciative of the opportunity to access this service and get a free meal!
We feel that people should have a voice, so we have implemented feedback from our guests. For example: Handing out numbers when people ‘check in’ so that they don’t need to wait in line. This has been valued by many, particularly those who have physical ailments. This also allows community to grow because people can continue to sit and eat their brunch while engaging with one another, knowing that they will not miss their turn.
Many have also commented that the pantry space is the place to be in community. It is known to a local influential indigenous artist as ‘the meeting place’: a place where you are accepted and you can be who you are.
Our hope is that we will be able to source funding to continue the brunch into the future. We value the positive impact that the brunch has had on the Community Pantry, but with the rising costs of food, this may become difficult. We will, however, seek out opportunities to continue this type of opportunity into the future.
If we are allowing ourselves to dream, it would be amazing to offer further services including haircuts (which we have done once), clothes washing facilities (e.g. orange sky) and housing crisis options for our area.
Our main priority is to be the feet and hands of Jesus to the people of the community. We want to feed and clothe people as best we can.
Volunteer 1: “I’ve learnt that church doesn’t just happen on Sundays! I’ve enjoyed meeting new people. Thanks so much for this initiative!”
Volunteer 2: “I love community pantry. I came there over 12mths ago, broken. I didn’t trust anyone. I didn’t want any friends. Fast forward to now and I love it and love everyone there. Everyone has accepted me for who I am, and not judged me. I’ve learnt that people like me (I’m still learning to except this).”
Volunteer 3: “During my time serving within the community pantry I have been blessed to learn a handful of new skills. Some everyday skills that I’ve learnt are how to prepare and store food as well as work fancy kitchen equipment! I have also learnt the importance of a warm hello with a smile. Each time someone gives me a heartwarming “good morning” I feel ready to tackle the day and keen to pass on the warm greeting to the next person.”
Bret and Tamara Clarke are pastors of Foster Tuncurry Church of Christ.
Got an idea for a project in your community? To enquire about applying for a ministry grant, head here.
Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE