Members of Gatton and Laidley Seventh-day Adventist churches in Queensland, Australia, have teamed up to facilitate the distribution of more than 11 pallets of fresh produce donated by supermarkets in response to COVID-19 — on top of food hampers they regularly hand out at their ADRA Lockyer Food Pantry.
Having heard about the food pantry ministry, food distribution service Second Bite asked Gatton church to distribute a large donation of fresh fruit and vegetables from a local grocery store.
“We said ‘yes,’ filled out an application form, and then they sent us about six pallets of grocery items,” said Darryl Groves, district pastor of the Gatton, Laidley, and Esk churches.
Impressed by the churches’ organization, Second Bite then sent another shipment of 11 pallets.
“Some of it is produce off the shelf that they can’t sell, but most of it is brand new, hasn’t even gone to the shelves yet. We’re talking tonnes of food, everything from grapes to tomatoes to bread, peppers, mandarins — it’s incredible,” Groves said.
To quickly draw a crowd to collect perishable items, food pantry volunteers said they found that word spreads most effectively through Facebook.
“We post the announcement in lots of community groups. People in need drop in and then tell their friends who are also in need,” Grovesexplained. “Word gets out so quickly. We had the pallets dropped off in the morning, and by three that afternoon, the produce was gone.”
Groves expressed his amazement at the team of dedicated volunteers — some of whom serve up to six days per week — to help more than a thousand individuals and families who collect food each week.
“We have altogether about 25 to 30 people involved, but of that, about 70 percent are community people just wanting to help out. Volunteers are coming out of the woodwork,” he said.
Community volunteer Patrick “Paddy” Ashton, who was appointed fresh produce coordinator, only recently became involved in the project and is now a vital member of the team, the pastor said. He has also begun taking Bible studies with Groves.
“What I personally get out of this is just being able to give and see the looks on the people’s faces of receiving top-quality produce for nothing,” Ashton said. “Just then, I had two ladies come in and thank us personally. It’s giving in abundance. Very uplifting, very rewarding.”
Although the ministry has grown in response to COVID-19, it began in September 2019 following a “crazy idea” by Gatton church members to host a free community feast.
“We organized 30 community groups to come together, and the [city] council closed off the street for the two thousand people who turned up,” Groves explained. “We didn’t know if we’d have enough food, but God provided. And this kicked off our idea to start the food pantry.”
In September 2019, operations began from the Gatton church hall and Laidley op shop (thrift shop), where volunteers distributed 20 and 10 food hampers, respectively. Despite foodbank supply shortages due to COVID-19, church members are continuing to pray, and the number of hampers is growing. Now, more than 170 hampers are distributed each week — about 60 at Laidley and 110 to 120 at Gatton. With produce purchased from Foodbank Brisbane, each hamper is sold for AU$20 (about US$13) but is filled with produce worth AU$150 to AU$200 (about US$100-130).
In addition to the food bank and hamper ministry, Gatton church has also been running a weekly soup kitchen since 2015.
“They usually feed between 150 and 200 people every Monday night, but while social isolation restrictions are in place, takeaway meals are going out instead. Volunteers take food to the local caravan park and are doing about 100 meals down there.”
With so many community-service initiatives operating simultaneously, one would assume that strict rosters are necessary for things to flow smoothly, but Groves explains that none exist.
“We don’t work on a roster, [but] it just works like a well-oiled machine,” he said. “We just allow those that want to turn up to come for as long as they want and to do what they want. It just happens. And there’s always enough people and food. We’ve never been short-staffed. I say, don’t fix something that isn’t broken! God always provides enough volunteers, enough visitors, and enough food.”
“For instance, this week, the local honey guy just donated [time with] his truck. He brings it down on Thursdays. The local IGA supermarket gives us forklifts to unload everything. And another lady on Wednesdays brings her truck in to help transport the food hampers to Laidley church because it’s too big for our van.”
Working together for the community, the outreach initiatives of Gatton and Laidley churches have helped bring the congregations together.
“We’ve got the most friendly bunch of volunteers you could ever possibly imagine,” Groves explained. “They don’t let religion get in the way of service. And when you see things come together, you go, ‘Wow, God is definitely behind it.’ It’s not a coincidence, it’s definitely divine intervention, and it’s definitely strengthened our community.”