On a cold winter’s eve, a line is growing outside the John Frew Centre, as a waft of something hearty and good hits the air.
Words & Images by Kate Hill
On the menu tonight is chicken schnitzel, mashed potato and vegetables, finished off with a hefty dollop of Maxine’s special gravy.
Everyone is welcome at the Sunset Community Kitchen and each year their band of volunteers prepares, cooks and serves thousands of meals to people in need from their Frew Park base.
There are no questions asked at the pick-up window. Everyone’s circumstances differ, explains Sunset Community Kitchen President Maree Thompson.
“We don’t know what’s going in people’s lives or what kind of pressures they’re under,” she said. ““A lot of these people are working and they have a home. They’re just struggling.”
Although there’s a perception that the kitchen mainly serves people who are homeless, the queue tonight shows the kitchen attracts all demographics: young men, an elderly couple and a mum with kids.
The kitchen has come a long way since humble beginnings in 2008, when Mount Gambier’s Pauline Kenny saw the need for such a service, handing out soup and sandwiches from a van parked on the street.
Since making Frew Park it’s permanent home, the team of volunteers has grown to a 100-strong crew, busily prepping and cooking for the regular Monday and Wednesday night services.
On Friday nights, the Salvos also serve homemade soup from the kitchen.
Following a global pandemic, the last year has seen numbers rise by an average of 20-30 meals per service and as demand for the kitchen’s services have risen, so have the costs involved.
The pandemic also changed the kitchen’s mode of operations
“Wednesday used to be a full sit-down dinner but unfortunately, Covid stopped that,” Maree said.
“Now it’s “grab-n-go” because we recognised that some people just won’t come in and sit down. The minute we started the “grab-n-go” method, we started getting a lot more people.”
Packaging containers are in constant demand, as is the need to keep a handle on the sizable quantities of food rotating in and out of the kitchen.
It’s here where the $1,000 received from OneFortyOne’s Community Grants program has come in handy, which went towards extra packaging supplies and a new labeller.
The kitchen team are grateful to be well supported by grants and also, donations from the local business community, which can vary from dozens of eggs to boxes of baked goods to 30kg of mince.
On shift tonight is Kitchen Coordinator Maxine Maney, busy stirring a huge pot of gravy and Kevin Douglas, who admits he’s been banned from kitchen duties.
“I’m a better people manager,” he laughs.
Of his three years at the kitchen, Kevin has been witness to the human impact of the service.
“When I saw what they did, it hit a bit of a nerve,” he said. “Everyone has some time to spare, don’t they?”
Tonight, everyone will be taking home both a meal and bag of goods, including fruit, eggs, cakes and home-made pies.
“A few weeks ago, we had a woman come and say, ‘it’s just so good to be able to give my kids a good nourishing meal and be able to take something home for them’,” Maree said.
“That’s what we’re here for.”
Our OneFortyOne Community Grants program is open for applications year-round.
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