Thieves steal church’s fruit trees, community spirit still strong

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Thieves broke into the private garden of Cannington Community Church (CCC) in Western Australia last week to steal 10 fruit trees, which were to be used in food parcels and in meals served at their weekly soup kitchen.

“We left on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday they were gone,” explained ADRA representative and church project coordinator Heather Stewart-Johnson. “They dug under the fence and took the roots and all. And they stole our wheelbarrows to transport the trees. I’m just disappointed they didn’t feel they could come and ask for help.”

Recognising the church’s generous community involvement, Canning Mayor Patrick Hall, in partnership with the local Bunnings Warehouse, coordinated the supply of new trees, seedlings and wheelbarrows to compensate the damage.

The church garden where their weekly community cafe attracts hundreds of people.

In an interview with Cannington Times, Mayor Hall said the theft reflects the sad reality of desperation felt by some in the community.

“At a time when the work of the Cannington Soup Kitchen is more important than ever, having valuable equipment and so many fruit trees stolen is a real blow,” he said.

Since CCC was forced to close their soup kitchen a month ago due to COVID-19 restrictions, volunteers have been handing out 30-40 food parcels every Friday instead, thanks to a team of volunteers.

“Our community cafe as we like to call it was held every Friday night and we’d sometimes feed up to 120 people,” said Mrs Stewart-Johnson. “People come because they’re hungry, or because they are just lonely and really want to connect and have a chat. Now we’re doing food parcels for the time-being instead, but it will be good when we start the cafe up again.”

The food parcels, which include fruit and vegetables, and grocery staples like bread and tinned goods, are mostly sourced from food pantry service Second Bite. The hampers reflect CCC’s commitment to community service and helping those in need, even during social isolation.

“When our current pastor first came, there weren’t very many members,” explained Mrs Stewart-Johnson. “He challenged us and said, ‘If we closed our doors today, would anyone miss us?’ Maybe no one would. That’s when we started the community cafe.”

Volunteers hard at work preparing meals in the church kitchen.

Thanks to the generous work of volunteers, CCC’s ministry is not only meeting the immediate needs of individuals but also helping to reduce community crime rates.

“At one point we’d been talking to a local Police Sergeant who said a throwaway line, ‘We know what you’re doing, and crime rates are dropping in the area. So don’t stop what you’re doing.’ I didn’t see the connection between crime rates and meals, but he explained that if they didn’t have us, they’d be breaking and entering to find food,” said Mrs Stewart-Johnson.

When there is leftover bread or fruit, CCC has partnered with the school across the road to give food to families in need. In addition, CCC run a clothing op shop, a street library and also have plans to create free community access to their garden.

“We’re trying to reach as many areas within our community,” she said.