Food truck gives Coffs Harbour Salvos an outlet for mission to homeless
By LAUREN MARTIN
After months of praying for God to provide an opportunity to meaningfully engage with people experiencing homelessness, Coffs Harbour Salvos were delighted with a donation of a food truck.
The donation of a large retro-style food van, fully equipped with fridges and cookware, was made by the PAYCE Foundation, a national philanthropic organisation that works closely with The Salvation Army in Coffs Harbour.
“It was a surprise when I heard that they wanted to donate a food van to us,” said Coffs Harbour Corps Officer Major Andrew van Gaalen. “As a result of the prayers, we believe that God moved the PAYCE Foundation to supply us with this incredible gift.”
The van, donated last month, is already being put to good use. Once a week, Andrew and a team of volunteers park it at the Farmer’s Market, where they connect with the local community and are able to share the good news about how the Salvos are connecting and serving people in need.
Also, at the markets, many people experiencing hardship and homelessness are starting to connect with the team.
“We love to give them a good cappuccino,” said Andrew. “We often ask them, ‘When was the last time you had a drink like that?’ And for some of them, it has been years and years and years, and we want to make them feel like they are a valuable part of the community.
“We carry frozen meals that we can heat up so we can give them a nice hot meal right there and then. We also carry non-perishable food items they can take away.”
But for Andrew and the team, the most powerful parts of the mission are the conversations and prayers that result from the initial cup of coffee or hot meal.
“The guys who are doing it have a heart for God and a heart for people,” he said. “We are getting to know them, they’re getting to know us, and hearing their stories and letting them know that someone does actually care about them.”
On Friday nights, Andrew and the team take the food truck to an encampment in local bushland where many people experiencing homelessness live. They park the truck, and the smell of chef-cooked meals like beef stew and butter chicken wafts out from the brightly lit serving area. Volunteers walk through the bushland inviting people to the van for a free hot meal.
“Two nights ago, when we arrived down there, there was a bit of turmoil,” Andrew explained, saying that a resident had passed away. “There was trauma going on, so we were able to minister into that space. We took some food up to the family, and we are keeping in contact. They are very appreciative.”
After the community meal, the team packages up leftover meals and walks into places across Coffs Harbour city and surrounding areas the food truck doesn’t have access to.
“One guy, he is sleeping under the stars, and he has lots of health issues – we take him down a feed. He wanted a radio, so one of the guys who helps us out went and bought him a radio last week, so we were able to take that to him. It’s a privilege to be able to do it.”
The vision for the food truck is to have it operational seven days a week, not just in and around Coffs Harbour but in the neighbouring townships of Woolgoolga, Emerald Beach and Toormina.
“In the centre of the city there are plenty of services for homeless people to access – they can get meals pretty much six days a week,” said Andrew. “What’s important to us is finding the ones that are out there on the fringes, who are not getting support.”
Visit the MySalvos Homelessness Week toolkit at: https://my.salvos.org.au/homelessness-week-toolkit-2023/