EVERY Friday, church volunteers turn the Nerang Community Hall on the Gold Coast hinterland into the Loaves and Fishes Food and Friendship Kitchen.
As the name suggests there’s a cooked meal for all comers, and a chance to meet new friends.
Loaves and Fishes has been operating for almost two decades and is enjoying a resurgence of interest, particularly from the area’s growing population of poor and unemployed.
“There’s a lot of hardship,” Peter Moloney, who is a stalwart amongst the men and women volunteers, said.
“People face high rents on the Coast, and then along comes an electricity bill and they can’t pay it.
“There are those dealing with domestic violence. There are people living in cars, sometimes dealing with mental illness as well as financial issues.”
While women cook up hearty meals in the kitchen, Mr Moloney is busy preparing food packages for delivery and pick-up.
If needed, he also issues vouchers for fresh bread and meat, and even petrol.
Mr Moloney said parishioners from St Brigid’s Church, Nerang, sent or donated food.
As locals arrive for lunch, they drop $2 in a donation jar near the door, take a seat and are served beef and vegetables.
“This is good medicine for the people,” Mark “Wolf” Blackangel, who has helped out at Loaves and Fishes for many years, said.
He is unemployed and “it’s hard to find work” in Nerang.
Some of the locals are surprised when Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge arrives to meet patrons and say thanks to the volunteers.
The Archbishop is on a three-day pastoral visit to the parish, and he perches at one table and chats over a meal.
“This is awesome,” Daniel McDonald, a first-time attendee, who came with his mother, Jenny, said.
They sit with pensioner Marijan Pusnjak, originally from Croatia, who has lived in Nerang for many years.
He said it was hard to pay the rent, and so he appreciated a cheap meal, and a chance to meet friends over a cuppa.
The Loaves and Fishes Food and Friendship Kitchen is an initiative of the St Vincent de Paul Society, and works closely with other community help organisations, such as Rosies, providing support on the Gold Coast.
By Mark Bowling