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Marketplace the place where community relationship starts

Shire Salvos Community Engagement/Mission Leader Michelle Wheatley with Jeremy, a shopper at Menai Marketplace.

When Michelle Wheatley heads out for her Thursday morning Salvation Army collection shift at Menai Marketplace in southern Sydney, she always asks God for opportunities. And God always answers her prayers.

The Shire Salvos Community Engagement/Mission Leader splits her work time between Sutherland Salvos Store and engaging with the Menai community, connecting people with local community services and faith expressions. She began collecting at her local shopping centre earlier this year and has found that it’s the perfect place to meet people.

“I have people that come in to see me every week,” she says. “People just want to talk, and what is happening is that God is softening the hearts of people.”

Michelle believes that The Salvation Army’s style of collection, where nothing is asked of people, opens the doors to great conversations. Whereas other organisations might wish to speak to local shoppers about their cause or ask them to donate, Michelle says she just offers a smile, a sticker or Kidzone magazine for kids, and a listening ear.

“There’s no strings attached,” she says. “I’m not asking for anything in particular, although if people want to donate, they can. I just offer a smile, and people feel comfortable to have a chat. And, all of a sudden, lots of different conversations start flowing.”

Shire Salvos Community Engagement/Mission Leader Michelle Wheatley with Shire Salvos Mission Leader Mark Soper at the Menai Marketplace collection point.

Michelle has been able to direct many people to food assistance and other services, both Salvation Army and other community organisations, and follows up with them on how things are going on their journey the next time she sees the person. Her role as Shire Salvos Community Engagement/Mission Leader enables her to offer Salvation Army services to needy people. And then deliver on those promises.

“There is an older gentleman who comes to see me every week,” she says, “and he needed some furniture taken away, so I made a few calls, and I was able to organise that for him.

“There is another woman who has shared a lot about the difficult circumstances that she is facing, and we are planning to meet up outside of my collection shift to have a deeper conversation.”

Michelle is a trained facilitator for The Salvation Army Positive Lifestyle Program and looks forward to offering that to people she forms relationships with through her shopping centre collection shift. “So many people are sad and they’re lonely, and they want to talk to someone and connect with someone. I do feel a strong sense of purpose that this community needs a non-threatening smile and a listening ear.”

It seems God has put just the right person in place for that very thing.


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