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The hot meal provided at the Saint Andrew's Uniting Church Community Meal program. Photo: Supplied

Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church transforms Community Meals during pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter all aspects of Australia’s social and economic landscape, Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church has rapidly and successfully responded to changing health and safety guidelines to continue their Community Meal program. Ben Rogers reports.

Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church in Brisbane would normally welcome guests to take a seat for their Community Meal program but as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across Australia these are not normal times.

What was once an opportunity for homeless and vulnerable guests to gather for a sit-down meal, new guidelines introduced by the Federal Government in response to COVID-19 meant that take-away was the only option on the menu for the church to continue its program.

After quickly gathering Community Meal supervisors and talking through the pressing operational issues that would guarantee the safety of volunteers and guests, the decision was made to continue the offering of a hot meal as a take-away only. And on Saturday 23 March, the church entered a new era of operation with queues lining up (socially distanced) on Creek Street to receive a hot meal plus supplementary food in a paper carry-away bag.

“Changes in advice was rapid and so decisions were made based on the health advice,” says Rev Susan Pickering. “We quickly resolved that moving to take-away meals was a sure way that we could continue the meals safely as sit down meals were no longer a safe option; the take-away meal consists of a hot lunch, individually packed snacks, small carton of juice, disposable cutlery and napkin.”

Volunteer health and safety was also paramount so although wearing gloves was already standard operating procedure before the pandemic swept Australia, volunteers now also wear face-masks and there are volunteers on the street encouraging social distancing for queuing people.

With much of Australia negatively impacted by COVID-19 government guidelines that have forced the closure of businesses and mass unemployment, issues such as food security, homelessness and vulnerability are ever present and the need for a Community Meal program is vital.

“Access to nutritional food is a real issue for many in our city, indeed our world,” notes Susan. “Saint Andrew’s cooking teams have been committed to providing nutritious home cooked-style meals. Some places have ceased to operate, some places have had to close their doors, and the reality is just because places cease to operate and close their doors doesn’t mean that the hungry, homeless and vulnerable disappear; rather their situation is exasperated.”

For Saturday’s meal, guests were offered sliced roast beef, mashed potato and mixed vegetables in addition to a welcome note with advice on good hygiene practices.

The feedback so far has been positive with one grateful guest stating it was an “11 out of 10 meal” and others happy that the meals would continue.

For more information about the Community Meal program visit saintandrews.org.au

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