Wahroonga’s soup van has grown to be a great example of the mustard seed parable.

 For over six years the The Dish of St John’s Uniting Church Wahroonga has been serving from the back of a van a meal to folk at Hornsby who each week come for food and company.

The idea for The Dish originated from a member of the congregation impassioned to feed the homeless in the Hornsby area.

After much prayer and deliberation, the church council approved the establishment of The Dish with its own constitution and committee.

The dream became a reality one Friday evening, when Natasha Cullen and her team staffed the van and took hot soup to Hornsby.

From one person, who had soup on the first evening, the average number served has grown to 12. One night last month there were 18.

A team of four to five volunteers has served the meal every Friday evening — the team of helpers now numbering more than 100. We serve meals to anyone who comes, no questions asked, giving hot soup, bread rolls, a nourishing hot meal and tasty dessert.

Rain, hail or shine, the van goes laden with food, clothes and toiletries. One of those who have enjoyed the meals has announced that we would even be there if it snowed!

Appreciative men and women are delighted with the range of foods presented, especially now that during term time we have young boys from Knox Preparatory School bringing in a meal prepared by their families.

The children are not present in the evenings but help in the preparation of the food and bring it to the van.

The boys, parents and teachers share their input in the preparation of the food and menus. Each week a different group of eight boys provides the food so that each family will have prepared a meal three times during the course of the year.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the boys to learn about the community around them and to become aware of their social responsibility.

St John’s Wahroonga operates the van each Friday of the month except the first — when Turramurra Uniting Church gives the St John’s team a break.

Last month marked a wonderful new step forward in outreach to the needy of Hornsby when van started going out each Tuesday evening — a community primary schools initiative led by Phil Ledlin of Prouille School, Wahroonga.

The participating schools are Prouille, St Leo’s, Wahroonga Preparatory School together with St Lucy’s, Abbotsleigh and St Edmund’s.

Each Tuesday a different primary school sends volunteers from their school — staff and/or parents — to prepare and serve the three-course meal.

This service from the primary school community is a fabulous way for the children of each school to see how their teachers and parents are helping others in the wider community, by cooking and serving meals to those who might otherwise do without.

Numbers are increasing and certainly the extra evening has been most welcomed by those who share the meal.

As news of the venture reaches the local newspapers, inquiries come in from people volunteering to help. And so our group of helpers — both serving and cooking — has grown.

We now have many more helpers from without St John’s than from within. It is a wonderful example of ecumenism.

Some early helpers were from the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Waitara; others come from the Catholic Cathedral in Waitara. The young Adventists are willing helpers and have always been there for us to rely upon.

Hornsby Uniting Church has been with us from the very beginning and a loyal team continues to support us. A Bobbin Head Anglican Church Bible study group has been there to add volunteers, as have other Bible study groups in the area.

The Dish, a separate entity from St John’s, survives entirely on donations. We are GST free and have been fortunate to receive grants from the State Government and the Hornsby Community as well as from local churches, service organisations and individuals.

The initial van was donated and set up by Natasha’s husband Grant — it was a used plumber’s van. Others fitted it out like a boat with drawers attached to the sides and with a pull-out table.

Picnic chairs are set up each week by those who we feed. Bags of clothes and necessary items are made available to them as well. Tea and coffee are served each week, unless the wind is so strong that the gas blows out!

Mitsubishi re-fitted the new van provided by UnitingCare Ageing, Sydney North Region, a few years ago. Local merchants — Bakers Delight — give us bread each week and other merchants contribute as well, with Woolworths Hornsby now providing us with food rescue boxes.

It is truly wonderful to be part of a service that is providing comfort and good food to the local needy folk in Hornsby.

It is a heart-warming experience to be part of a team of people from right across the area — both Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby. It is truly ecumenical, ever-changing and adapting to the needs of those who come to us.

We are thankful for the interest and commitment of so many people who support us and are appreciative of the support from local members of parliament, especially Judy Hopwood, Barry O’Farrell and Matt Kean.

The Dish also has the support of St Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army as well as the Police.

There is a friendship and spirit of community fostered throughout the group, both with the volunteer helpers and those who come each week.

It is most fulfilling for all involved.

Alison Steward


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