Help needed to offer food help
Pictured: Neil Barber , UnitingCare’s Community Partnerships Coordinator
In recent years, the growth of food ministries operated by Uniting Church congregations throughout NSW and the ACT has been something of a double-edged sword.
To the needy, food ministries are a tangible demonstration of Christian love and service. To local Congregations, they provide a forum for Church members to engage with the wider community and an opportunity to develop relationships with non-members.
On the other hand, maintaining an effective food ministry requires a lot of resources, including volunteers. This need presents one of the biggest challenges for many Churches, particularly those in country regions.
Neil Barber is UnitingCare’s Community Partnerships Coordinator for the NSW Riverina. Part of his role involves coordinating UnitingCare’s support for congregational food assistance programs, across the NSW and ACT Synod.
Neil says there are more than 80 congregations in NSW and the ACT running some type of food ministry, such as grocery or pantry services where clients select a range of food items. Other food ministries include drop-in centres and cafes, school breakfast programs, soup-kitchen-style services, and community gardens.
Volunteers required to sustain services
Many services have grown in recent years. As a result, they face new challenges including increased costs, limited availability of fresh produce, the need for more volunteers and more storage space.
In many cases, particularly in country areas, services are operating at full capacity in terms of volunteer support. This means it is very difficult to maintain the long-term sustainability of some services, particularly as replacing volunteers can be hard.
Neil says it is important to remember these are voluntary services. They receive no government support and it is very hard to attract philanthropic funds.
This year Neil will undertake a research project examining various aspects of the Church’s food ministries. The aim is to obtain data that will enable UnitingCare to more effectively support these ministries and help each service better respond to future challenges. The results will also help Congregations planning to start new food services to be better prepared for the challenges they might face.