Community meal patronage triples over 12 month period

St Vincent de Paul volunteers Bob Goodyear and Gabrielle Carman have seen the numbers of people coming to the weekly ...
Deena Coster

St Vincent de Paul volunteers Bob Goodyear and Gabrielle Carman have seen the numbers of people coming to the weekly community meal rise from about 15 to 50 in the past 12 months.

A free community meal is bringing people together and in one case, helping a family escape debt.

When the St Vincent de Paul volunteers ran its first dinner in April 2016, about 15 people turned up but 12 months on,  about 50 or so are walking through the doors of St Joseph's church hall every week for a meal, pudding and hot drink.

This simple idea has offered a financial life-line to New Plymouth mother Colleen Warren.

A free community meal, an initiative of St Vincent De Paul volunteers in New Plymouth, offers food, pudding and a hot  ...
Deena Coster

A free community meal, an initiative of St Vincent De Paul volunteers in New Plymouth, offers food, pudding and a hot drink to members of the public in need.

The 37-year-old said having to put one less meal on the table every week eased the pressure off the family finances and freed up a bit of money, which she used to pay off bills.

"It has helped us clear a little bit of debt.  Being able to do that has been really helpful," she said.

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New Plymouth couple Etu Tokotaua and Sarndra Paton contribute food and help set up for the weekly meal, before they join ...
Deena Coster

New Plymouth couple Etu Tokotaua and Sarndra Paton contribute food and help set up for the weekly meal, before they join the other visitors for dinner.

Warren attends the weekly meal with husband Alex and daughter Tiana and said it was a "family environment" where people felt genuinely welcomed and not judged.

She felt local and central government had their heads in the sand about how much people were suffering.

"It's a huge issue," she said.

Ngaire and Kevin Stubberfield are regulars at the Thursday meal.  They both agree the service is a "very necessary" one ...
Deena Coster

Ngaire and Kevin Stubberfield are regulars at the Thursday meal. They both agree the service is a "very necessary" one for New Plymouth to keep.

"There's lower than poverty, there are people that are struggling to live," she said.

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The meals are cooked off-site by eight volunteers and delivered to the kitchen to be dished out to the visiting diners.

One of the meal organisers Gabrielle Carman said support for the initiative had blossomed, including a rise in people who gave up their time to help.

"Once people saw what we were doing, they wanted to come along and be part of it," she said.

The volunteers helped fundraise to cover costs related to the meal, a fund bolstered by a recent donation of $6,000 from the TSB Community Trust.

"That's been invaluable to us," Carman said.

While there were regular diners who turned up every week, new faces came along too, all from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, she said.

"Some of them don't have a lot of money to spend.  Some people come for the company."

Carman said the regular fellowship also offered a chance for new connections to be made.

"It enables all kinds of interactions and bonds to be built."

New Plymouth couple Etu Tokotaua and Sarndra Paton have been involved since day one with the community meal.

Every week they donate some food and turn up early to help set the tables and prepare the room for the guests. 

The community dinner gave the pair a chance to meet new people and give back to their community as well.

"We get to help them, the people that don't have money or enough food," Paton said.

Ngaire Stubberfield, along with her husband Kevin, were also regulars.

"Our friends are here and we enjoy the fellowship.  We enjoy the food," she said.

While not "on the breadline" themselves, she felt the community meal was a "very necessary service" for people who were not as lucky.

"For some people it's just about the only thing they have," she said.

 - Stuff

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