Food for body and soul offered to Sydney’s struggling

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Volunteer Adrian Simmons cleans the dining room at Canice’s Kitchen, before it was temporarily closed on 17 March. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Inner city food and support service braces for even greater need

Canice’s Kitchen in Elizabeth Bay this week launched a take-away pre-packed meal service for the homeless and other people needing extra support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nestled underneath St Canice’s church in Elizabeth Bay, the fully donor-supported soup kitchen and drop-in space has operated for nearly 30 years.

Now, like many other support services across the city, it is adapting to meet public health restrictions and the increased needs of its guests amid extraordinary circumstances.

Volunteers no longer meet in the kitchen, but form virtual teams using technology to cook in small groups from their homes. From 1 April they’ve dropped meals to the two Canice’s caretakers who then provide them at the front gate at lunchtime, following social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Carrie Deane, community manager at Canice’s Kitchen in Sydney. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Canice’s is also partnering with local cafes which will prepare meals paid for by volunteers. The take-away service will operate three days a week with the goal of operating daily in a few week’s time, says community manager Carrie Deane.

“We anticipate this may be the situation for at least six months and are planning for support services to keep running even through these challenging times,” Ms Deane said.

“Devastatingly, we expect the need to be even greater”

“As we move forward through this pandemic we are now also planning for what our city will look like post COVID-19. Devastatingly, we expect the need to be even greater. I am working on how we can meet that demand as greater numbers of vulnerable Australians emerge after this disaster.”

Ms Deane said the service needs to raise $50,000 to resume daily meal offerings, as well as access to toiletries and sanitary items, plus to meet the increased cleaning costs necessary to re-open the showers and toilets.

It has opened an online fundraiser at canices-kitchen-emergency-fund.raisely.com

When The Catholic Weekly visited Canice’s Kitchen last month it was a calm and friendly oasis in Sydney’s bustling inner east.

Sandwiches, salads, sweet treats and fruit are now packed into lunch boxes and given away at the kitchen’s Roslyn Gardens gate. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Three men lingered chatting over a table in a  courtyard graced with potted plants and overhung by a stately jacaranda, while another sat with two staffy cross puppies and their mother resting at his feet.

Inside, volunteers were wiping down the tables in the bright dining room decorated with original local artworks and religious images.

Guests, volunteers and staff alike loved its transformation from stark and sterile something that is more like a comfortable but trendy cafe. Aesthetic changes are just one part of the revamp, with an early morning program launched to offer much-needed support to local disadvantaged and socially isolated people.

Prior to the shutdown, the doors opened each day from 8am offering hot beverages and pastries, newspapers and renovated bathroom facilities where toiletries and towels were also provided.

Treating people with the dignity they deserve

“Start your day with Cani’s is the name of our new campaign which is about giving some of our most vulnerable people the dignity they deserve,” said manager Carrie Deane, Canice’s Kitchen community manager.

“They don’t have a chance like we all do to roll out of a nice comfy bed, grab a cup of coffee and have a shower and something to eat before going outside. Here they could go to the toilet and have a shower, if you’re a woman you could change a tampon, things like that which are so necessary but difficult if you are living on the streets.

“It’s a clean, safe space and our two caretakers are a point of contact for any emergency support such as the police or a counsellor. We aim to provide a level of early morning support that currently in our area doesn’t exist.”

Gilly, a Canice’s Kitchen regular, pictured with his puppies Ocean and Woodstock. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

A strict usage policy and some rearranging and brightening of the spaces attracted more women to use the facilities than in the past. “Our tagline is ‘the kitchen is the heart of the home and we are the heart of the community’,” said Ms Deane.

The lunchtime service, which would usually cater for 150 people each day, was upgraded. Teams of volunteers from across the city dish up their favourite recipes with staples such as fresh meats and fish provided by Canice’s.

On the menu when The Catholic Weekly visited were homemade hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, pizza and an assortment of rolls and fresh sandwiches. Dessert was a selection of peanut brownies and lamingtons, scones and ice cream or yoghurt with fruit.

“Our food service is central but it’s all that interaction that happens around the kitchen table that provides that holistic support,” said Ms Deane.

Due to the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, Canice’s Kitchen made the difficult decision to close from 17 March in line with social distancing recommendations from the state and federal governments and NSW Health.

A volunteer cooking team before the shutdown. With the kitchen now closed, they are working remotely via virtual teams and dropping off full lunchboxes. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Gilly has been living on the streets for nearly four years and before it closed on 17 March would visit daily for lunch with his staffy cross dog Samantha and her puppies Ocean and Woodstock.

“The service that Canice’s Kitchen provides is very important in supporting the low cost housing people who live around here and people living in homeless circumstances like myself and my animals,” Gilly said.

“They’re very compassionate here and they provide good meals, actually awesome, tasty meals compared with other places I’ve been to before. Everything is bright and clean and the people here are all friendly and compassionate and always willing to help out. They are awesome to talk to.”

The community kitchen is part of the Jesuit parish’s outreaches which also includes David’s Place, Vinnies, and supporting a community in East Timor. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Sue Shaw, who leads one of the daily volunteer teams, said she has been helping out with friends from across Sydney for 11 years and that it is better today than ever.

“It’s not institutionalised like it used to be. Everything was exactly the same, the chairs and tables and everyone sat in the same places, and it was very stark,” she said.

“Little touches like a lovely little wooden dresser to serve the coffee and tea from instead of a stainless tea trolley make it really beautiful, and the food is amazing now.”

Parish manager Lynelle Lembryk said the drop-in space is a bright spot in Sydney which continues to be a vital community-building outreach. “What I like the most is that it allows other parishes to come in and form that larger network of parish communities working to support vulnerable people,” she said.

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