Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the team at Dandenong Baptist Church have adapted to the challenges of these unexpected times, and have come up with some new and creative ways to care for our members and the broader community.
Each week, our church runs a program called Nourish. This involves an accessible and interactive service followed by a community meal, which has been operating for the last five years. This service and meal program is attended by many people who are homeless or socially disadvantaged. As the coronavirus restrictions began, our Pastor for Community Engagement Naomi Paterson was hesitant to close the meal program down, aware that the homeless community in Dandenong would be hard hit by the social effects of the virus, along with the challenges posed for the community by mass closures of local organisations that provide material aid.
Pastor Naomi liaised with the Material Aid Co-ordinator from the City of Greater Dandenong Council, and put in place procedures to serve the meal as takeaways, with both our volunteer team and our guests practicing social distancing measures. Along with meals provided by Cornerstone Contact Centre, a local organisation which serves meals to the street community that also runs from Dandenong Baptist Church, Nourish was identified by local and state levels of government as a key provider of material aid in Dandenong. As social distancing lockdowns came into play, Pastor Naomi was visited by local police, who assured us of the importance of keeping the meal programs running and continuing to care for the marginalised in Greater Dandenong. They helped to work out the safest way to serve the meals while observing the distancing laws, and have visited the programs several times since to lend their support.
In the early weeks of March, Naomi contacted local fruit and vegetable stallholders at the Dandenong Market and secured twice-weekly donations of fresh produce from two different stalls. She also secured a donation of bread three times each week. In mid-March, local Council began to provide Nourish with both fresh and non-perishable food, along with important items such as sanitizer and gloves. Alongside the hot meal, we have been able to provide our community with boxes of fresh produce, non-perishable food hampers and fresh bread. As well as serving these to our guests at the community meal programs, our pastoral team have been visiting church members who are in isolation and delivering these hampers full of goodies, showing practical care in a time when social distancing poses such unique challenges to the way we provide pastoral care.
The Sunday morning service is being broadcast weekly via Facebook livestream and is well attended. Pastor Naomi is missing the Nourish church service but is glad for the opportunity to wander down the line as guests’ queue for the takeaway meals, stopping to chat to all our regulars along with newcomers. Many from this vulnerable community already struggle with mental health and have mentioned that they are feeling anxious or depressed at the moment. We are aware that there will be huge social and economic implications in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, and that vulnerable members of our community will need care and connection more than ever. It is such a privilege to be able to share the love of Jesus with our neighbours in practical ways during this challenging time.
Submitted by Dandenong Baptist Church