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Pakenham cafe initiative bringing healing after COVID-19

Thalma displays one of the paintings she completed at the Hope Cafe creative group at Pakenham Salvos.

A corps in Melbourne’s southeast is offering the community a place to connect, grow their creativity and give back to others.

Pakenham Corps recently launched an initiative called the Hope Cafe. What began as tea and coffee on a Monday has become an art, craft and games group and a community garden.

Corps Officer Captain Katie Ryan said the initiative began with no formal program and was just a check-in space on Mondays for members of the local community to come and chat. Now each week, up to 40 people come to share their lives, create and grow food together.

“By just creating a space for people to share their stories and share life together, they’ve come up with these really cool things,” Katie said.

Thalma and her painting of the iconic Salvation Army kookaburra.

She said one man who came to the group from a refugee community in the area spoke very little English, but the group discovered through spending time with him that he was a gardener. This led to him leading the construction of a community garden.

Another member, retiree Thalma, started attending the group soon after she took up art for the first time in her late 70s. As part of the creative groups at Hope Cafe, she began painting works inspired by her involvement with The Salvation Army. One of these included a painting of the Salvation Army kookaburra.

Thalma now regularly attends the Sunday services at Pakenham Salvos and volunteers at the centre. She said she felt like it was the right place to spend her time and that the soldiers and staff were all approachable and down to earth.

She said her grandparents were part of The Salvation Army, so she feels her life has done a complete circle.

“It’s such a welcoming place to everyone, no matter what colour [you are] or anything about you,” Thalma said. “It’s just such a comfortable, happy place to be.”

She said that COVID-19 had shaken everyone in the local community and that Hope Cafe was a haven for those feeling anxious and disconnected.

“The friendship is just fantastic,” she said.


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