Waste not, want not

27 Jul 2017

For over 45 years, St Patrick’s Community Support Centre has been feeding Fremantle’s needy, supplying an average of 80 meals a day. But as we were to discover, this food service is just the tip of the organisation’s community services.

WORDSJessica Zoiti

Every Friday morning, a regular customer pops into The Black Truffle. He’s there to collect bread, milk, cheese, meats and other delicious goodies, but unlike most others, he leaves without paying.

You see, this food has reached the end of its shelf life, but rather than be thoughtlessly discarded, it’s donated to St Patrick’s Community Support Centre where 365 days of the year, a small team of dedicated staff and volunteers prepare around 80 meals – most of them free – for homeless and needy members of our community.

“The food that’s donated by places like The Black Truffle, Woolies, a few IGAs, many of the bread shops, and other smaller specialist places in and around Freo, tends to provide enough to cook the bulk of our meals,” explains Melanie Watkins, Fundraising and Volunteer Coordinator at St Patrick’s Community Support Centre. Pantry staples like flour and breakfast cereals – items that create the backbone of the meals – still need to be purchased.

“We don’t have government funding, so we purchase these items through our donations. However, we just about always have enough veggies (via in-kind donors like Woolworths) to add to whatever we’re cooking, which for dinner and lunch is always a three-course meal comprising soup, often meat and veg and a desert.”

While breakfast is free, as is tea and coffee throughout the day, clients are asked to pay $5 per person for the three-course meals. As Melanie explains, this nominal fee is to promote a sense of self-worth among clients

“We do have a small charge per person for the three-course meals however, if someone is unable to pay, they can book up to six of those in advance without paying,” she says.

“We do that for mutual respect, so that people aren’t always feeling like they’re taking. If you have a meal and pay for it, you can hold your head up high. It makes people feel like they’re not always receiving handouts.”

Food products that aren’t needed for meal prep are filtered through to St Patrick’s ‘shop’, a place where clients can access otherwise unwanted groceries.

“’Shop’ is just our term however, the service is free,” says Melanie. “People who come in can take a plastic bag and fill it up with fresh fruit, veggies, bread, and sometimes meat that we don’t need for our meals.”

Contrary to popular belief, many of the centre’s clients aren’t stereotypically homeless, sleeping on park benches, or on sidewalks. Some are, of course, but others may be living in their cars, some don’t have a home to call their own and live in overcrowded boarding houses, or are couch surfing at friends’ houses, some are teetering on the edge of homelessness and others are people who are simply lonely and don’t have anywhere else to turn.

“It’s warm, it’s dry, and there are always other people to chat to here (in the Day Centre) plus, there’s always a hot meal to be had. Our clients are not always the homeless stereotype – we run a community centre for anybody who is in need,” Melanie says.

But it’s more than just food people turn to St Pats for. The organisation offers a lengthy list of diverse and holistic services ranging from emergency relief and a day centre with hot showers through to housing (crisis and transitional), health services, education and training, youth programs and more.

“I think a lot of people see St. Pat’s as providing food, and a place to be through the day, but we’re a lot more than that,” Melanie begins.

“We have housing – we have 180 beds in and around the Freemantle area in boarding houses, in flats, and there’s flats at the back of St. Pat’s as well. There are family homes, and there are women’s homes. Then we’ve got Youth Place, which is for young people.

“We’ve also got lots of highly qualified support workers and outreach workers who go out into the community, talk to people, and try to connect them with whatever services they may need, whether in St. Pat’s or outside.

“We have a health clinic, we have our oral health clinic – we’re basically trying to get people back on their feet, back into employment, back into housing, or in training, or whatever they need to become once again a functioning member of society, able to look after themselves. That’s the key thing we’re trying to achieve here.”

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Adding muscle to the skeleton staff in the St Pat’s kitchen is a regular roster of volunteers, including high school students from John Curtain, Santa Maria, Iona and CBC. Volunteers also help out in the health and dental clinics, and in St Patrick’s op shop.

 

Volunteer drivers head out on regular driving runs a couple of times a week to collect food nearing the end of its shelf-life from businesses across Fremantle. If you’d like to offer your services, or donate in-kind goods, contact the kitchen manager, Stella, or Melanie Watkins on (08) 9430 4159.

St Patrick’s Community Support Centre is currently looking for food and cash donations for the annual Long Table Christmas Dinner, to be held on Thursday, November 30, 2017. Book tickets and further information can be found here.