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Employment worries, financial distress, isolation and mounting bills mean for many, a visit to their local BaptistCare HopeStreet for a warm, nutritious meal is their only choice.

For people visiting HopeStreet, after paying rent, utility bills and hopefully putting some petrol in the car, food is the first necessity people are giving up to meet their competing living costs.

“Dealing with the pandemic has brought a new demographic to the tables across all of our HopeStreet locations. A lot of the new faces are just every-day people doing it tough, trying to stretch their dollar a little bit further,” said Dianne, Manager at BaptistCare HopeStreet Port Kembla.

Breakfast begins at 9.15am with cereal, coffee and toast. A slow, steady chatter comes from the tables as people eat and connect. With increased demand and social distancing at play, they then move on to give others the opportunity of a meal.

“It’s been really easy to manage because people care for and respect one another, in the times that we’re in that comes easily,” said Dianne.

We’re not just a kitchen, we are a community.

“It goes beyond food. It’s the kindness for people needing the basic necessities. It’s the ‘Hi, how are you? Are you doing okay? Can I help you with anything or do you need extra assistance?’” said Dianne.

For single mum Erin*, beyond a hearty meal HopeStreet is the difference between living in pain and being able to manage it. Our Port Kembla team was able to help her access her prescriptions. “I was having a lot of trouble, I ran out of money for my medication. It was very scary. They gave me pharmacy vouchers to get the scripts. I’m so grateful for that community and support,” said Erin.

Lunch service starts at 11am with a hearty, cooked meal with vegetables and salad, then a dessert, depending on what’s available on the day. For some, it may be their only meal for the day. There’s always a bowl of fresh fruit available as a snack for the road.

Despite being restricted to just two people per table, Dianne says HopeStreet is busier than ever. “Normally if we have 80 people it’s a really busy day. Last week we hit 80 twice and another day in the high 70s. It’s now our norm.”

“It’s a big increase, and a big demand – on our chef and on our volunteers. Our volunteers are vital. COVID has meant a lot of extra work, it’s cleaning, it’s monitoring. Our volunteers make that happen, and ensure we continue to focus on connecting.”

“We’re very much governed by the crisis that comes through the door. We are also very reliant on the community as to what we are given, is what we give away. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out with Government cuts to individual support,” says Dianne. “I’m expecting us to get a lot busier.”

Geoff, a volunteer, says new faces are always welcomed. “People now know what services are available here. Some come once or twice a week to connect. It gives them a good nutritional feed.”

Before HopeStreet, Geoff cared for his father for eight years and experienced isolation and disconnect from his community. Without HopeStreet, he wouldn’t have the connection and the friendships that he has today. This gives him a deeper understanding of what people come here for.

“The people here are just decent people. I notice the difference in myself in understanding who they are. I’ve always had everything in my life available to me. Then you see people do it real tough. On a daily basis I see help happening with no judgement attached and I feel good that I can help too,” said Geoff.

Over the past 22 months at HopeStreet Port Kembla, alone:

  • 36,825 meals were served
  • 5,376 food hampers were distributed
  • 2,380 emergency relief items gifted – that’s toiletry packs, clothing, linen, phone cards, quit smoking aids, petrol vouchers, pharmacy vouchers for scripts

We still need your ongoing help. This is not a unique story. As demand increases across all of our HopeStreet locations so must the support for what we do...

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*Names have been changed. Images are for illustration purposes.