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Cooking up a storm at the Wesley Mission Brisbane community
Cooking up a storm at the Wesley Mission Brisbane community meal. Photo: Holly Jewell

What’s cooking in the Valley?

Dianne Jensen goes behind the kitchen doors at a community meal in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.

There’s nothing like a pleasant night out, with fresh flowers on the table and a three-course meal over friendly conversation. The hospitality is especially warm when the food is prepared as part of a training program for women prisoners and served by volunteers to needy people.

An agreement between Wesley Mission Brisbane (WMB) and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre has cooked up opportunities for prisoners to learn hospitality skills while putting food on the table for those doing it tough. WMB has been providing weekly community meals in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley for ten years, with assistance from Foodbank Queensland and food rescue charity OzHarvest.

Volunteers and staff join clients every Wednesday evening to share dinner at the long tables laid with tablecloths and cutlery in the upstairs premises of a former restaurant.

Former state coordinator Prison Ministry UnitingCare Community Beatriz Skippen was the link between the Helana Jones Centre, Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre and WMB. Prisoners are supervised by a team from Wesley Mission Brisbane Albert Street Uniting Church.

“Corrective Services wanted to facilitate the women practising their hospitality skills in an environment where they can learn, like an industrial kitchen,” says Beatriz.

“There is not a lot of choice when it comes to putting the community meal together, so the women need to be creative, to see what kind of meal they can prepare with very little. That is close to what will happen when they go back to their homes because they won’t have much, and they will need to put in practice what they have learnt.

“For the women, preparing these meals is the closest thing to having a normal life, and they see that there are people in a worse situation than them. This whole dynamic is helping them to recognise—I can help others, and I can prepare good food.”

The chef and his assistants cater for an expected 80 to 100 diners. All the kitchen prep is completed by mid-afternoon, the stainless steel benches are pristine, and the women inmates are ready to leave.

“Food connects with people, creates a safer space,” says Beatriz. “We demonstrate that we care for others through providing food, and we break down barriers in conversation. I think that when you have food on the table you bring out the best of another person.”

For more information visit wmb.org.au or call 1800 493 75 39.

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