Serve One Another With Generosity And Joy
you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared
for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry
and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
An article from the South
Sydney Herald, October 2004 by
A year and a half ago two
women gathered in St Vincent's church, in Redfern, to feed
the hungry. They bought a chicken and a loaf of bread on their
first morning and had one guest. Now they feed more than 200
people each week, free of charge. However, this service is
under threat because funding from the Catholic Church was
cut last month, forcing money to be raised on a week to week
basis. Brother Michael Gravener helped establish what he calls
'Sharing the Meal', and is upset by the lack of notice and
explanation given to his group. "It has become an important
space for the disadvantaged, including many Aboriginal people
in the area. They [the Catholic Church] supported us unreservedly
when they pledged the money and now they've withdrawn it for
no good reason. They didn't even contact us to tell us the
funding was being withdrawn," he said.
The group is mainly coordinated
by Mary McMahon and Kate Gavan, who used their own money to
get everything off the ground. The demand for food grew quickly
so they sought outside funding. The Charitable Works Fund
(CWF), which is a branch of the Catholic Church, granted them
$200 a week. On recent advice of an unnamed Indigenous community
mernber, the financial controller of the CWF, Michael Moore,
decided to remove the funding around June 30 this year. The
CWF did not notify the St. Vincent's group directly but one
justification suggested was that other services exist in the
area to satisfy the needs of the needy people of Redfern.
These alternative providers are the Salvation Army - who provide
meals at $3 each - and St Vincent De Paul, who deliver food
parcels to peoples' homes, following an interview process.
Kate Gavan believes these
services are inappropriate for the people she helps each week.
"It's ludicrous because our people, a lot of them haven't
got homes. There's a lovely lady that comes here and she sleeps
in a Moreton Bay Fig in Redfern Park. How the St Vincent De
Paul come along and interview people like that I don't know.
I'm very sad about it all, particularly because we're in the
middle of winter", she said. The Vicar-General, Monsieur
Brian Rayner, defended the Catholic Church's position saying
that the CWF gives more than enough money to such groups.
"The charitable works fund gave out $292,000 last year
to Catholic Aboriginal Ministry. We take advice from the Aboriginal
Community as to what is appropriate to donate and it was considered
inappropriate for us to continue that donation", he said.
'Sharing the Meal' also claims
to offer more than just a free meal. Michael Gravener believes
the service has developed a stronger sense of community for
disadvantaged Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Redfern
and surrounding areas. "We provide meals for people,
but this is also really a place to provide friendship and
relationships with people, and it's been a real hit. We provide
a bit of fun and sharing and on Fridays Helen Reagan comes
in and plays the guitar. It's a really nice atmosphere and
people just love coming," he said.
Since the funding was cut
the organizers have had to turn to their own pockets and have
appealed to Redfern locals to help keep it going. A local
Jewish doctor contributed $1000 a few weeks ago, after hearing
about the group's plight, but even generous donations like
these will not keep the group operating indefinitely.
As the morning meal finished
up last Friday, twenty people, who were left in the church,
sang along to an old Beatles tune. Someone tells a joke and
boisterous laughter momentarily cuts into the music; the joy
on peoples' faces is clear to see and one of the regulars
who benefit from the meals, Mark Christopher, put it simply.
"Besides the great food, I've made some friends here
which is nice. And it's very pleasant and relaxing",
The local clergy at St Vincent's
do not attend these sessions, except to open and close the
church doors each day. Even the young, foreign seminarians
- who used to join in and play music at the meal - have stopped
coming. The founders would love to see the church administration
more involved. The increased detachment of the priests is
at odds with the church's history, once led by Father Ted
Kennedy, who tirelessly helped the poor for more than thirty
A steady source of funding
is still needed to keep 'Sharing the Meal' alive but its founders
are determined to keep it going, even if it means reaching
deeper into their own pockets.