This time last year a team of volunteers from the Uniting Church served up their first free monthly meal.
Dubbed “Free Monday Meal”, the gathering at the church hall on the first Monday of every month was a new way for church members to offer help to the community and was to be trialed for 12 months.
As the initiative celebrates its first anniversary next week, one of the founding coordinators Bev Hawken is thrilled with the response.
“It’s been a lot more successful than we ever envisaged and we will be continuing it on in the same format,” Bev said.
“Over the 12 months we’ve served over 700 guests, an average of almost 60 each meal.”
They must be doing something right as so many people return each month.
“There are always news guests but there are also a lot of regulars - some have been coming the whole time, they don’t miss a month,” Bev said.
“So we consider we are doing the right thing, we must be satisfying them.”
Originally three teams of 12 took it in turns to prepare, cook and serve the monthly meal.
“We have modified things as we’ve gone along, we are learning on the run,” Bev said.
“We now have five team leaders and a head waiter.”
The church funds the meals and coordinators have been pleasantly surprised with the amount of community support they have received.
“We’ve probably had more than half our costs donated by organisations that we haven’t even asked for help,” Bev said.
“They are finding it a very worthwhile cause.”
Apart from cash donations the group receives excess food from Anglicare's “Georgie's Pantry” and the SecondBite program.
Bev said Neighbourhood Central have also been terrific in their support of the initiative.
“They have a bus that they run around the town and collect people,” she said.
“They can bring half a dozen or they can bring 15 depending who remembers.
“It’s fabulous we have tapped into the elderly part of our community.”
A large percentage of people come not only for the delicious home cooked meal, but also for the company.
“You can sort of tell, they gravitate to the same table with the same people every month. It’s becoming a social outing for them,” Bev said.
“It’s just a really relaxed, happy atmosphere.
“We are still getting families, some nights we might only have one but we could have four.
“And there are a few that you can tell are strugglers but they are the minority.
“I’m just hoping that’s a sign that’s there are not too many out there struggling and not that they are too proud to come along.
“Word of mouth is important as we appreciate people’s privacy
“We try to contact all the relevant organisations when it’s coming up so they can let anyone know they think might benefit from it.”