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Churches working together in Snowy Mountains mission

Cooma Corps Officer Auxiliary-Lieutenant Anthony Barford (left) and corps member Andrew Hiscock volunteer at the Soul Food Community Kitchen.

It hasn’t been a great snow season in Australia. Lack of snowfall has led to less work being available for seasonal workers on the New South Wales ski fields. Add to that the cost-of-living pressures and high rent prices in the area, and the number of people needing support has skyrocketed.

For decades, the local Jindabyne St Andrews Uniting Church has been running a weekly ‘Soul Food Community Kitchen’ on a Monday night during the ski season, offering a free meal and dessert to anyone in the community who needs support.

Several years ago, they were looking to partner with another church, so they contacted The Salvation Army in nearby Cooma.

Auxiliary-Lieutenants Anthony Barford and Sandra Mortimer had recently arrived as the new leaders at Cooma Salvos, and they jumped at the chance.

“I have an interest and an ability in commercial hospitality, and they were looking for someone to help with the cooking,” said Anthony.

This year, a member of Cooma Corps who is a professional cook has also volunteered to assist.

“Us being there frees up two people from the St Andrews congregation to get out and about and spend time with the people who come in for dinner,” said Anthony. “That’s really the key – for them to be able to spend time ministering to people around the dinner table. Then we have a Bible study afterwards for the team or for people who might wish to join us.”

Aux-Lieut Anthony Barford on soup service.

Anthony said numbers had significantly increased this year, from serving up to 150 people last year to serving 250 people on the busiest night so far this year. “That’s a lot of soup!” he said.

He said cost-of-living pressures have drawn in community members who haven’t had to access the service before, “many of them single-parent families.” And itinerant ski-field workers who pay up to $600 per week for dormitory or shared accommodation and sometimes get under 30 hours of work. The Soul Food Community Kitchen also has a pantry service and an op-shop.

“It’s a place where people can come and know they will be welcomed and supported, and they can get one free or low-cost meal per week to help their budget,” he said.

And although the impact on those attending may never be known, Anthony says the support has been life-changing for some who have attended.

“Last year, we had a young woman come in, and she looked unwell, dazed,” said Anthony. “She wasn’t quite sure what she was doing. We asked, ‘Are you OK?’ and she said she had suffered a fall and had a concussion and was feeling really unwell.

“The team at St Andrews arranged and paid for an appointment for her with a specialist in Canberra Hospital. They found that she had a brain bleed, and that appointment saved her life.”

For Anthony, it’s a privilege to participate in a support role working in the kitchen, to allow the local parishioners the time and space needed to connect, support, and, at times, pray with those who attend.

“We have other people come in with emotional problems, spiritual issues and physical problems from skiing on the poor, icy conditions, and there are personal supports available for people through the church which would not otherwise be provided. Monday nights is a real connection point.”


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