Well-loved community cafe Manna Haven—a ministry of Byron Bay, Alstonville and Ballina Seventh-day Adventist churches (NSW), among others—is distributing meal vouchers to backpackers, families and individuals struggling to make ends meet as a result of COVID-19.
Customers, church members and people from the community have so far purchased more than 200 meal vouchers to feed people in need, at a cost of $A14 per meal.
“I’ve been giving the vouchers to the local fruit and veggie shop, the local organic shop,” explained Manna Haven head chef and of Alstonville church member Bryce Wegener. “I gave some to lady that lives with a house full of backpackers out of work. Some I’ve given to social workers at the local hospitals to give to people in need.”
The meal-voucher initiative was proposed during a Manna Haven board meeting where members—representatives from various Adventist churches in the area—made the decision to keep Manna Haven open during COVID-19.
“When COVID-19 hit and we didn’t know whether to continue operating or not, our regulars were begging us not to close,” said Mr Wegener. “[But] we’ve lost about 70 per cent of our customers.”
Despite the drop in sales, Mr Wegener says that the uncertain times have caused customers to be more open to spiritual conversations.
“In the initial stages of COVID-19, many locals coming in were asking questions. A guy from the dress shop down road was asking if it was the end of the world. People aren’t so safe in their worldliness anymore, and it creates opportunities,” he explained.
With a large proportion of Byron Bay’s population being internationals and tourists, people’s spiritual beliefs and practices are diverse.
“It’s a real battlefield. New age practices and meditation are huge here and anything goes spiritually. What’s a real battle for me is that people are happy that you believe in Jesus and that you’re a Christian and a lot of them will say they believe that too, but still believe in and practice [new age spirituality],” Mr Wegener explained.
Despite the diversity, people from all walks of life are attracted to Manna Haven because of its focus on healthy living and creating a better lifestyle, and everyone is welcome.
“The community knows who Adventists are now,” said Mr Wegener. “I’ll walk down the street and know people by name. The homeless guy is a good friend of mine, so are the bus drivers and buskers. It’s because people love good food and it creates community.”
If you would like to support Manna Haven in these tough financial times or purchase food vouchers for those in need, you can donate via their website.