7 June 2022
A Rye church has built up huge goodwill in its community through offering a weekly breakfast to children at the local primary school, some of whom might be eating for the first time that day.
Each week St Andrew’s Rye volunteers cook 175 breakfasts for 120 children, plus teachers and parents, and even some of the gravediggers at the local cemetery.
The outreach – known as “The Bread Café” – is now integral to St Andrew’s mission and outreach.
St Andrew’s vicar the Reverend Nick Wallace said for most of the children it was their second breakfast for the morning, but for some, it was their first.
“We know for a fact that some of the kids … have not eaten until they’ve got to us. They’ve got up, got their uniforms on, and they’ve not eaten a thing. Nothing,” he said.
The weekly breakfasts first started in 2018, offering tea, coffee and toast and a monthly barbecue to 80 or 90 students and staff. That has since doubled in size and the barbecue breakfast of sausage, bacon, egg and cheese in a roll is now served every Thursday during term.
“It just evolved like crazy,” Mr Wallace said.
“There is a tremendous amount of good will towards the church, even though we don’t always get positive publicity … there’s a very warm rapport particularly with the school and the staff.”
Mr Wallace said Thursday morning was “like the MCG”. Nearly every week they run out of food, no matter how much they cook.
“The kids just invade us,” he said.
“I arrive with the team down at the church sometime between 7am and 7.15am when we start cooking. Around about 8am it’s like the hordes of Germania – the kids come to church, they come into the atrium, we have fresh percolated coffee brewing, with tea, and we have toast as well.
“They come into the atrium where members of my fabulous, fabulous team give them the breakfasts that we’ve cooked and put in the oven so they’re all nice and hot.”
Some of the Rye Primary students come to the school by bus from outlying areas like Red Hill, he said. If these buses are held up, Mr Wallace and a school staff member take the breakfasts out to the school so the children have enough time to eat before their first lesson.
Mr Wallace said St Andrew’s planned to start running a mainly music group after The Bread Café in September, as something extra to offer people with young children.
The Bread Café concept came about from Mr Wallace’s experience working in United Kingdom parishes, many of which had explored the concept of “soft interfaces” with the community to engage them, rather than coming straight at them with “churchy stuff”.
St Andrew’s parish council agreed to his idea of a free breakfast as a soft interface in 2018, and the idea took off.
Originally, the BBQ was held on the church lawn as it was felt students, staff and parents would be uncomfortable inside the church. Now it is held inside the church, which has prompted a few conversations about faith.
Mr Wallace summed up the breakfasts’ effects with reference to Ecclesiastes 11:1
“I always thought that if we cast our bread upon the waters something would come back,” he said.
“Nobody knows how in the future this might create some sort of safe, confident platform for somebody to take a step off [into the Christian faith].”
Breakfast volunteer Angela Raffaele said children were initially reluctant to participate in the breakfast program, but that quickly changed. She said volunteers had watched the progression of children’s throughout the long-running program.
Ms Raffaele has been with St Andrew’s for 12 years, and involved with the free breakfast from the start.
“We started from really small beginnings – the BBQ used to be way outside. [It’s only recently] we’ve started bringing people into the church because they had no idea what we were about,” she said.
“Initially there was reticence but we’ve had some of these kids now since grade two – now they’re grade six. They came in full of bravado and it’s now ‘Hi, how are you’.
“Now everybody just walks in and it’s been really lovely.”
Ms Raffaele said it was clear the Rye community really appreciated the church’s work at the breakfast program.
“They just love it, and our church community likewise,” she said.
“People donate money on Sunday and say ‘I’d like you to take this to The Bread Café’, because they understand how important it is – there’s a need for this here. Kids need to eat.
“They kids are so productive at school on a Thursday. The teachers said what a difference it makes.”