Hope and hospitality in a COVID-19 hotspot
When the Delta variant of COVID-19 struck Sydney in June, it rapidly spread to the city’s southwest. The LGA of Canterbury-Bankstown emerged as a major hotspot topping new 300 cases per day at its peak and more than 9000 cases to date – the highest of any LGA in the state.
As the community went into stringent lockdown measures to help stop the spread, Bankstown District Uniting Church swung into action finding a way to support those left most vulnerable.
Minister Rev Gaby Kobrossi shares how a team of 35 volunteers has come together to support about 550 people every week with bags filled with bread, fruit and vegetables.
“When the Church was asked to close, we started thinking – ‘what can we do to reach out to people?’” says Gaby.
It is a ministry that initially began in March 2020 when the pandemic first struck, but the need quickly re-merged this year.
“We started collecting bread from different bakeries in Bankstown district. We do that every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In total we collect 800 to 1000 loaves of bread as well as pizza and other pastries.”
“Then we began working with other generous donors who provide pallets of fruit and vegetables.”
“Volunteers from the Church arrive in the morning from 7.30am and prepare the bags to start the distribution and delivery.”
The churches in Bankstown and Yagoona act as distribution centres for the bags of groceries. A door-to-door service is provided to about 50-60 families each week.
Each bag weighs about 7-10kg and is filled with bread, fruit and vegetables – enough to feed a family.
Recipients includes older members of the community or those with disabilities who are particularly restricted by the lockdowns, people experiencing homelessness and those who can no longer work and are struggling to meet basic needs.
Gaby says coming to the Church has been a point of connection, and many returned home encouraged that someone was looking out for them.
“People are calling to say ‘thank you very much, this is a message of care and love, we do not know what we would have done without it,” said Gaby.
Every bag includes a note from the Church, sometimes it is an Order of Service, a prayer or a message about keeping well, “so there is spiritual food and physical food,” says Gaby.
“I say to people, ‘Be positive, God is alive, and God is looking after us.’”
Some congregations from across Sydney have donated to the ministry and notes have been left on their behalf inside the care packages. Gaby said he was also grateful for the support of Georges River Presbytery.
Further to this, Gaby is also serving as a chaplain for people arriving from overseas and into hotel quarantine, particularly those arriving from the Middle East. He provides pastoral care through hotel visits in full PPE as well as offering prayer over the phone.
“Some people ask for communion, so I have a kit that is specially sealed for individuals. I prepare the Bible readings and prayers, then I pass it on to the police or doctors who deliver it directly to them.”
We know there are many examples of the ways Uniting Church communities are delivering care to others right now. Please share your stories with us!
Here are some examples we have found.
Canberra charity HelpingACT is quietly doing good work right throughout the lockdown - including the delivery of emergency food gift packs to Civic's Early Morning Centre for the homeless, run by UnitingCare Canberra City, and distributing donations from Kippax Uniting Church and others.
The delivery of critical food supplies to the community of Goodooga, a primarily Aboriginal community in the Brewarrina Shire of NSW, in a collaborative effort by Uniting Dubbo and the Macquarie Darling Presbytery churches of Dubbo, Bathurst, Orange, Gordon/Pymble and Canowindra.
Dozens of Ballarat's most vulnerable residents have received their first COVID-19 vaccination at Uniting's BreezeWay Centre as part of a push to protect the city's homeless from the virus.