The gap between rich and poor in New Zealand is growing. According to Make Poverty History, the proportion of all children in severe and significant hardship in New Zealand has increased from 18 to 26 percent since 2000.
St Pat’s Social Justice Group has sponsored a monthly Community Cafe, since 1993, that serves a four-course meal to some 50 people. Members of the social justice group provide a soup and salad, and parishioners provide sumptuous mains and desserts.
The meal consists of a choice of four soups with a bread roll, salad, a choice of mains and dessert. In December and February, we host a barbecue where we serve burgers, sausages, salads and deserts. There is never a charge. Our group is joined by other parish volunteers who help us serve up and keep the dishes and the cutlery clean to use again for the next course.
Parishioners tell us that they look forward to cooking for the cafe. Even though we have a roster and try not to ask the same person two months in a row, some parishioners want to cook every month. It is something concrete and practical that people of goodwill can do to help others.
Some of the same people have been attending since 1993, not just for the delicious meal, but for the camaraderie as well. Because of this, people have come to know each other very well. Families and friendship groups are an integral part of the guest list. The cafe provides them with an opportunity for a sociable night out and a good meal. The regulars tell us it is the best meal in town and our guests frequently thank the kitchen volunteers.
Dinner begins at 6pm, but our guests begin to arrive at 4:30 to turn the parish hall into a cafe. This cooperation increases the sense of community. Guests also help with the washing up and the putting away.
Our guests are asked to book in with the parish secretary the week before so that we have some idea of how many to cater for. However, some 15 people will sometimes turn up unexpectedly and those in the kitchen panic until we remember with relief the loaves and fishes story. So far no one has ever been turned away. We try to keep a few canned goods in store just in case we run short. It is nonetheless a kind of social miracle – you know, people sharing what they have with others who don’t have as much.
Pictures: top Regulars who help set up the hall for the Community Cafe; centre: More regulars at the cafe; bottom: Ann Behrens and Mary Eastham (right) washing up afterwards.