Gatton church food-pantry ministry explodes in size

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Some of the volunteers helping to prepare food hampers.

Members of Gatton and Laidley Seventh-day Adventist churches (Queensland) have teamed up to facilitate the distribution of more than 11 pallets of fresh produce donated by Coles in response to COVID-19—on top of food hampers they regularly hand out at their “ADRA Lockyer Food Pantry”.

Having heard about their dedicated food pantry ministry, food distribution service Second Bite asked Gatton church to distribute a large donation of fresh fruit and vegetables from Coles.

“We said yes, filled out an application form and then they sent us about six pallets of grocery items,” said Darryl Groves, pastor of the Gatton, Laidley and Esk churches.

Impressed by their organisation, Second Bite then sent another shipment of 11 pallets last week.

“Some of it is produce off the shelf that they can’t sell but most of it is brand new, hasn’t even gone to the shelves yet. We’re talking tonnes of food, everything from grapes to tomatoes to bread, capsicums, mandarins—it’s incredible,” said Pastor Groves.

In order to quickly draw a crowd to collect perishable items, food pantry volunteers have found that word spreads most effectively through Facebook.

“We post the announcement in lots of community groups. People in need drop in and then tell their friends who are also in need,” explained Pastor Groves. “Word gets out so quickly. We had the pallets dropped off in the morning and by 3pm that afternoon the produce was gone.”

Pastor Groves expressed his amazement at the team of dedicated volunteers—some of whom serve up to six days per week—to help more than a thousand individuals and families who collect food each week.

“We have altogether about 25 to 30 people involved, but of that about 70 per cent are non-Adventist community people just wanting to help out. Volunteers are coming out of the woodwork,” he said.

Community volunteer Patrick “Paddy” Ashton—who was just yesterday appointed “fresh produce coordinator”—recently became involved in the project and is now a vital member of the team. He has also begun taking Bible studies with Pastor Groves.

Volunteer Paddy Ashton helping to pack new boxes of produce.

“What I personally get out of this is just being able to give and see the looks on the people’s faces of receiving top quality produce for nothing,” said Mr Ashton. “Just then I had two ladies come in and thank us personally. It’s giving in abundance. Very uplifting, very rewarding.”

Although the ministry has grown in response to COVID-19, it actually began in September 2019 following a “crazy idea” by Gatton church members to host a free community feast.

“We organised 30 community groups to come together and the council closed off the street for the 2000 people who turned up,” explained Pastor Groves. “We didn’t know if we’d have enough food but God provided. And this kicked off our idea to start the food pantry.”

In September 2019, operations began from the Gatton church hall and Laidley op shop, whose volunteers distributed 20 and 10 food hampers respectively. Despite current Foodbank supply shortages due to COVID-19, church members are continuing to pray and this number is growing. Now, more than 170 hampers are distributed each week—about 60 at Laidley and 110 to 120 at Gatton. With produce purchased from Foodbank Brisbane, each hamper is sold for $A20 but is filled with produce worth $150 to $200.

In addition to the food bank and hamper ministry, Gatton has also been running a weekly soup kitchen for the past five years.

“They usually feed between 150-200 people every Monday night, but while social isolation restrictions are in place, take away meals are going out instead. Volunteers take food to the local caravan park and are doing about 100 meals down there.”

With so many community-service initiatives operating simultaneously, one would assume that strict rosters are necessary for things to flow smoothly, but Pastor Groves explains that none exist.

“We don’t work on a roster, [but] it just works like a well-oiled machine,” he said. “We just allow those that want to turn up come for as long as they want, and to do what they want. It just happens. And there’s always enough people and food. We’ve never been short-staffed. I say don’t fix something that isn’t broken! God always provides enough volunteers, enough visitors and enough food.”

“For instance, this week the local honey guy just donated his truck, he brings it down on Thursdays. The local IGA gives us forklifts to unload everything. And another lady on Wednesdays brings her truck in to help transport the food hampers to Laidley church because it’s too big for our van.”

Working together for the community, the outreach initiatives of Gatton and Laidley churches have helped bring the congregations together.

“We’ve got the most friendly bunch of volunteers you could ever possibly imagine,” explained Pastor Groves. “They don’t let religion get in the way of service. And when you see things come together you go, ‘Wow, God is definitely behind it.’ It’s not a coincidence, it’s definitely divine intervention and it’s definitely strengthened our community.”

Pastor Groves and Mr Ashton encourage readers that if they would like to be involved, to simply “just turn up” to Gatton church during the week.