Food Services and Advocacy for Bathurst’s Vulnerable
In 2020, when Bathurst Uniting Church’s support shelter was forced to close, they started a soup kitchen. No longer able to provide a place to sleep, this volunteer-run service shifted its focus to food. The Shelter Café offered hot food four days a week to people experiencing homelessness and addiction, not to be thwarted by coronavirus.
This year, with the gradual easing of restrictions, Bathurst Uniting Support Services have been able to expand their programs. According to co-ordinator Julie Greig, these services are driven by an attitude of “kindness and gentleness”. This approach has led to the creation of other food ministries and advocacy, as well as the continuation of the Shelter Café on weekends.
Bathurst Uniting Support Services supplies pastoral care and practical support to people experiencing homelessness and addiction by offering free meals, and a buddy program for those who are newly sober. They support the local opioid clinic by providing a bus service to and from the clinic, as well as a community-building barbeque breakfast. There are also programs that directly address substance use during pregnancy and parenting, including lessons for nutritious cooking and packs of food for families to cook.
As well as practical programs, Bathurst Uniting Support Services aim to educate the wider community about addiction and reduce social stigma. The growth of these programs over the past four years has been fuelled by community support, as past participants in these programs often return as volunteers, and other community organisations such as Kandos Nanna’s Haberdashery donate clothing and money.
Since the closure of their own shelter, Bathurst Uniting Support Services have been involved in advocating for a permanent refuge in Bathurst. Julie Greig is a service coordinator.
“One of the aims of the Uniting Church is to be a voice for the voiceless,” she said.
Ms Greig said she believes this refuge is a vital service for people experiencing homelessness and addiction.
Bathurst Uniting Church have been without a minister since early 2021 when they farewelled Rev. Claire Wright. Worship services, pastoral care, and support programs are run by members of the congregation. Face-to-face worship resumed in October last year, and Bible study groups and retired ministers now take turns at leading services.
The future of Bathurst Uniting Church and its support services will be challenging, however volunteers are determined to continue providing food programs for people experiencing homelessness and addiction, and to persist in advocating for a permanent refuge.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is Insights’ intern.