Bundaberg families are “one unexpected expense away from crisis,” UnitingCare Community regional director Richard Johnson told NewsMail late last year. A free hot meal has never been in greater need. Ashley Thompson reports.
Established 15 years ago by Judy Gallagher out of Bundaberg Uniting Church, Andy’s Place is a community-run soup kitchen offering three free meals a week to anyone in need.
“I felt this strong pull that we had to do something, you know we had to actually get out there and physically do something,” says Judy.
“There are a lot of people out of work right now with the slump in the mining boom, a lot of people living on social welfare and there are certainly homeless people out there.”
The Australian Council of Social Services defines poverty in Australia as a single person with less than $358 of disposable income a week after housing—a situation which affects more than a million Australians. UnitingCare Community says the Wide Bay–Burnett region’s poverty level is 50 per cent above the national average.
Offering low-cost housing and a warm climate, Bundaberg has been described as a hotbed of disadvantage. Andy’s Place clients demonstrate the reality that soup kitchens are not just for the homeless but everyday folk experiencing a difficult time.
“There are all sorts of need,” says Judy. “Some soup kitchens want to see a Centrelink card but we just feed anyone who comes without question.”
From small beginnings in 1999 when a young backpacking couple was invited in for a free hot meal, Andy’s Place now regularly provides around 150 meals a week, and has served over 68 000 meals in 15 years.
Fully funded by congregations and community members, this soup kitchen has adapted to the evolving needs of the community, never questioning demand in its low socio-economic city.
“We hope to extend this to people from the country that come down for hospital visits and there is grave need for housing, especially for men,” says Judy, “but these are just thoughts at the moment, any way we can be of assistance.”
4–10 August is Homeless Person’s Week in Australia.