25 April 2024

Food fostering community connections in disadvantaged Long Gully

Pizza nights and the chance to chat over a cup of tea have brought in members of the community to this regional church. Photo: supplied.

Maya Pilbrow

22 March 2023

Food is key to reaching the community, a former Anglican parish in Bendigo has found.

St Matthew’s Church in Long Gully offers frequent social and community events based around growing, eating and sharing food.

Parishioner Anthea Taylor said St Matthew’s offered worship and meals, community pizza nights, cooking classes and a community garden. The church also partners with other community groups for events.

Members of the St Matthew’s youth group will help with set-up for the upcoming Multicultural Moving Feast on 24 March. The event is organised by Regional Victorians of Colour in support of the Long Gully Karen refugee community.

Mrs Taylor said the parish’s focus on food was due partly to the church’s location.

The former Anglican parish of St Matthew’s in Long Gully was deconsecrated several years ago, but the Bendigo diocese still owns the building.

Missional community group Seeds took over pastoral care duties and have maintained an ongoing relationship with the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo.

Read more: Tarneit Foodbank ‘grown to be its own little community’

Mrs Taylor said Long Gully was a disadvantaged area.

The median weekly income in Long Gully is just 56 per cent of the state median according to 2021 census data.

Census data also showed residents of Long Gully reported having mental health conditions at more than twice the state and national rate. The local unemployment rate is 8.2 per cent compared to the nation’s 5.1.

Mrs Taylor said food insecurity among the community had been a concern for the church, so they began a food bank programme in 2017.

The People’s Pantry differs from more traditional food donation programmes. Members sign up, pay $10 per term and volunteer for a few hours each month.

Mrs Taylor, who coordinates the People’s Pantry, said the social interaction was key.

“People come in, have a cuppa and a bikkie and then go through to get food,” she said. “It’s very much a social circle thing.”

Read more: The Anglican food relief program that’s run by the people it helps

Fellow parishioner and St Matthew’s community worker Dave Fagg said the parish was initially reluctant to organise a food bank.

Mr Fagg said there was concern about the relationship between donors and receivers at foodbanks.

“When you’re the giver of food, and they need to justify that they need it, that relationship can become quite transactional,” he said.

Mr Fagg said the church approached the programme as a community development project.

Mrs Taylor said the church’s outreach had been very successful.

“We’ve made really good connections with local people,” she said.

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