It All Starts With A Meal

David Keeler

Five Loaves Ballina is a ministry of the Ballina and Alstonville SDA Churches providing meals to the needy in the community on Tuesday and Thursday evenings  in front of the Ballina ADRA Op Shop.  It commenced serving 3 clients in 2016 and now provides around 30 meals twice weekly, as well as distributing surplus food collected from supermarkets, fresh food markets and other stores.

One quarter’s Sabbath School lessons in 2016 had a theme on Jesus’ passionate love affair with the poor, down-trodden, marginalised and forgotten. The challenge of what could be done in Ballina struck a chord with Di Thompson and Julie Love, Ballina Church members.  At that time, the Five Loaves soup kitchen in Lismore, started by the late Darcy Goodwin and then being run by Lismore church members, had received a new donated van to replace their barely-functioning old van, so Di and Julie gained possession of the old Five Loaves Lismore van. A miracle occurred, in that they were able to operate using that van until a successful application to the NNSW Conference Adventist Community Services allowed the purchase of a new van for Five Loaves Ballina. The ACS grant also allowed the new van to be fitted out with tables and chairs and other equipment that can be assembled very quickly.

Di and Julie were initially assisted by a member of the local Aboriginal community, Noel Young. Members from Ballina and Alstonville churches and the wider community became involved over time and it is now considered to be a ministry of the two churches.

The local IGA and subsequently Woolworths, Coles and other food establishments in Ballina and Lennox Head allowed Five Loaves to collect surplus food, including food with damaged packaging, which is used in meal preparation and made available to clients.

The Ballina church has a room which has become a dedicated Five Loaves Ballina pantry, with storage and commercial refrigeration. The church kitchen is sometimes used by cooks who live a distance from Ballina to ensure that meals can be delivered hot to clients.

Volunteer cooks operate on a 5-weekly cycle, many using some of the donated food in the meals they prepare. They deliver the meals to the Op Shop at 5pm for distribution by a team of onsite volunteers over a 1-hour period. (In some circumstances, meals are also delivered to clients’ homes.) Before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, 2 and 3 course sit-down meals were provided using chairs and tables set up on the street verge. Since then, take-away meals have been provided from the same site. There is so much donated food, over and above the cooks’ needs, that the surplus is distributed to clients from self-serve tables. Spiritual literature is also freely available and volunteers are on hand to talk to clients and pray with those who are willing. Over time a number of Five Loaves clients have attended Ballina SDA Church and Five Loaves volunteers have ongoing contact with several former clients.

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