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Give us this day our daily bread

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Gift of Bread rescues left-over bread from bakeries and distributes it to other charities, welfare organisations, refuges and soup kitchens, public housing estates, parish groups, schools’ breakfast clubs and more. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Gift of Bread rescues left-over bread from bakeries and distributes it to other charities, welfare organisations, refuges and soup kitchens, public housing estates, parish groups, schools’ breakfast clubs and more. Photo: Patrick J Lee

Sixteen years ago Marcel De Maria heard a call to “Go out and give bread.”

Together with his old school friends Nick Tropea and Valerian Rego, they founded a charity that with the help of Catholic parishes and schools gives more than 10,000 people doing it tough their daily bread.

From “just one man and his car,” Gift of Bread is the largest distributor of rescued bread across greater Sydney, as well as a warm and welcoming community of people from all walks of life.

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And it’s still growing. It’s part of a trend of parish communities from Mosman to Oran Park adding food relief to their ministries for those who can’t afford Sydney’s rapidly-rising cost of living.

For Marcel, it’s troubling that today “ordinary people” who have never found themselves on the breadline before are asking for support.

Gift of Bread rescues left-over bread from bakeries and distributes it to other charities, welfare organisations, refuges and soup kitchens, public housing estates, parish groups, schools’ breakfast clubs and more.

It reduces landfill but more importantly fills a large gap in the supply chain from commercial bakers’ ovens to many of Sydney’s most disadvantaged, assisting other charities whose own costs are rising as they also get busier.

Marcel says the number of requests has risen dramatically across the board but especially in the west and south-west.

They have started including other items such as milk and meat to some of their bread orders.

“The further out west you go, the bigger the demand,” he said, adding that he’s currently looking for more volunteer delivery drivers.

Gift of Bread is the largest distributor of rescued bread across greater Sydney, giving to more than 10,000 people. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Gift of Bread is the largest distributor of rescued bread across greater Sydney, giving to more than 10,000 people. Photo: Patrick J Lee

Marcel began by helping Eliza Warren, a fellow parishioner at St Bernadette church in Clemton Park in Sydney’s inner west, who has since passed away.

She used to ask bakeries in the area for their surplus bread and give it to the needy, but without any help was on the verge of stopping.

“God has mysterious ways of bringing people together,” Marcel smiled.

Some of his favourite moments so far have been of the volunteer Gift of Bread community itself: A homeless man who they helped to find health care and accommodation, a woman who arrived as a troubled asylum seeker, made her first friends in the country and left with a job offer, and an ex-prisoner who similarly went on to a much-needed paid role.

The main community workshop is a converted parish building in Tempe with several Catholic parishes and schools acting as distribution hubs, including in Balmain, Mosman and Concord.

There’s a hub operating out of a family’s garage in Parramatta and bread is delivered as far as Campbelltown and Quaker’s Hill.

Corporate sponsorship has also been vital, with Canterbury League Club one of the largest donors.

The charity also enjoys the support of Sydney’s bishops, including Bishop Danny Meagher, who blessed and officially opened the Tempe workshop with local MP Ron Hoenig last December.

A diverse 300-strong army of volunteers collect, sort, slice, bag and deliver 12 tonnes of loaves, rolls, flatbreads, baguettes, pizza bases, savoury and sweet breads every week donated by Bakers’ Delight, Woolworths, Coles and local bakeries.

Volunteers include parish and school groups and a number of corporate teams. Most are located in the inner west but some travel great distances to join their Gift of Bread “family” at work.

Fr Chris de Sousa CRS and volunteers from Miani Meals prepare hampers for struggling families in Sydney’s west. Photo: Somascan Missions
Fr Chris de Sousa CRS and volunteers from Miani Meals prepare hampers for struggling families in Sydney’s west. Photo: Somascan Missions

For parishioners, doing something practical to feed the needy is an expression of their faith.

All Hallow’s Five Dock couple Grace and Martin Apap have set their alarm for 4am every Wednesday for the last five years to put in a few hours at Gift of Bread before going to work at their family business.

The couple have nine children aged 22 down to eight and Grace is also a catechist teaching scripture at Leichhardt Public School.

“In the Bible it says we can’t just pray, we must also do charitable works, which I’ve always loved doing since I was about 17,” Grace said.

“My friend Patricia brought me here one day with her and I was so impressed I’ve been coming ever since.

“It’s a very long day and I’m exhausted by the end of it, but I know it’s going to people who really need it.

“I can’t go out to actually feed them, so this is my way of helping out.”

Gift of Bread isn’t the only charity helping Sydneysiders feed their families, with many parishes across Sydney providing pantries, grocery support and other food assistance as a core ministry.

At St Joseph’s parish in Moorebank 25 of the parish’s young adults gather each fortnight to prepare and deliver free grocery hampers to 15 families in the Liverpool, Moorebank and Fairfield areas.

Fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, and even treats for kids’ school lunchboxes are dropped off for those who simply can’t afford to buy enough food.

Ryde-Gladesville Catholic Parish launched Our Lady’s Kitchen in 2021 to bring freshly cooked meals and food hampers to those in need in its local area. Photo: Supplied
Ryde-Gladesville Catholic Parish launched Our Lady’s Kitchen in 2021 to bring freshly cooked meals and food hampers to those in need in its local area. Photo: Patrick J Lee

Called the Miani meals service—after the nickname of the Somascans’ founder, St Jerome Emiliani—it was launched in August 2021 during the second COVID pandemic lockdown.

Supporters include Chullora Fruitland in Greenacre and local schools, who run food drives to contribute non-perishable items.

“We hope that during particularly difficult times the food hampers or vouchers would alleviate some costs associated with running a household, until which time family members can get back on their feet,” said coordinator Alison de Sousa.

Ryde-Gladesville Catholic Parish launched Our Lady’s Kitchen in 2021 in partnership with Gladesville Vinnies, the St Merkorious Charity and the Gift of Bread Foundation, to bring freshly cooked meals and food hampers to those in need in its local area.

Parishioners collect and deliver meals twice a week to 40 struggling households, with enough to serve as leftovers for a second day, and there are plans to extend the outreach further.

Parish priest Fr Greg Morgan FMVD said although it is a relatively affluent area many people have “fallen through the cracks.”

Head of the Our Lady’s Kitchen committee Caroline Tuyau used to regularly volunteer to help cook lunch for up to 200 guests at Canice’s Kitchen at St Canice’s parish in Elizabeth Bay.

She’s passionate about making sure everyone, no matter who they are or their circumstances in life, has enough to eat.

“I love it, I grew up in a family that loves to eat, my mother always made sure there was lots of food at every meal and I’m very particular that no one goes without food,” she said.

On the other side of Sydney, every Wednesday between 6.30-7.30pm St Patrick’s parish in Bondi puts on a hearty homemade meal for anyone in need of dinner and company.

Ryde-Gladesville Catholic parish priest Fr Greg Morgan FMVD said although it is a relatively affluent area many people have “fallen through the cracks.” Photo: Supplied
Ryde-Gladesville Catholic parish priest Fr Greg Morgan FMVD said although it is a relatively affluent area many people have “fallen through the cracks.” Photo: Patrick J Lee

Meals include family-style favourites such as garlic chicken and rice, lasagna, or roast lamb with potatoes. Always with a salad or vegetables and followed by dessert.

The Order of Malta Community Kitchen opened in December 2021 at the invitation of parish priest Fr Anthony Robbie, who runs it with the order’s regional hospitaller, Steve Christie.

Diners are often shocked at the quality of the food prepared and served by volunteers, with one saying the meals were the “most delicious” on offer for those in need in the area, but that “better still” is the warm company of the volunteers.

“The way you serve makes me feel like a welcome house guest,” he said.

Would you like to help?

Gift of Bread www.giftofbread.org/you-can/volunteer

Miani Meals www.somascan.org.au/support-us/

Our Lady’s Kitchen email [email protected]

The Order of Malta Community Care Kitchen at St Patrick’s Church, Bondi www.orderofmalta.org.au/community-care-kitchen-bondi/

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