By Ninfa Flores, Dean Hoang and Qian Zhu
Life can be tough – not all of us have the lives that we want or are fortunate enough to put decent food on the table. Thankfully for the Newport community, Genevieve’s Community Kitchen (GCK) steps up every Wednesday to help fill that gap, offering the less fortunate not only a generous free lunch, but also laughter, companionship, and hope.
The Westsider visited recently, and was lucky enough to be able to enjoy GCK’s first birthday celebrations, and talk with ‘Genevieve’ herself – AKA Angela Bagnato.
Q. How did Genevieve’s Community Kitchen start?
Identifying the need for an initiative of a food security for people within the community who were struggling financially to feed themselves regular, nutritious meals or living alone and being elderly or unwell. Based on a desire to Serve God through serving others the concept of extending hospitality, excellence of service, and a meal shared to bring people together, enjoying good wholesome home-style cooking, conversation and healthy social interaction and a supportive network.
Q. How long have you had this idea and what preparation was required?
This is something that has been in my heart for many years although I was working in the corporate world most of all my life. When I decided to pursue starting a community kitchen I began researching what food security programs where available in the area and became a volunteer with Secondbite, where I was a delivery driver to other community food programs in Melbourne and had the experience of briefly volunteering at St Marks Homeless Centre in Fitzroy. I had approached the Newport Baptist Church (of which I am a member), they were encouraging and supported by providing the facility, volunteers and the broader network where other Baptist organisations were generous with setup grants to purchase a fridge and kitchen and catering equipment etc.
Q. Are the homeless and disadvantaged people in the community the inspiration for GCK?
Previously I was a resident in Newport and Williamstown and I was very familiar with the area and although these areas are fairly affluent, there are pockets within the community that struggle and this was something I had observed over the years. The people on the streets, living in public housing interwoven amongst the growing affluence of the area – at the opposite end there were people struggling. Also our location is a short walk from the Newport Train Station and Bus Depot which made is very convenient for people in need to travel to our weekly lunch program.
Q. Do you think people deserve a better quality of life, and is this program helping them feel that they are not alone after all?
Absolutely, everyone deserves the best! This is what the model is based on; providing excellence of service for the community, a program that is not exclusive and welcomes everyone, we welcome everyone that has a need, each week the patrons become more and more like family!
Q. Do people share their problems or just come to socialise and have a meal for the day?
The experience is emotional, relational and spiritual. The weekly lunch program is a very social event and we are invested in getting know everyone, especially new faces. We get to know them by name and story, and naturally, how we can assist. This open, hospitable environment provides the perfect platform for people to feel comfortable enough to open up and share any trials or tribulations they may have.
Q. Where does the food come from?
The food we cook is donated from the amazing organisation Secondbite. Without their support we would be unable to provide this service. Also we are very fortunate to have the support of local businesses in Newport; Sammy’s Bakery provides freshly baked bread every week and Routleys Bakery provides us with bread and other baked goods also.
Q. How many people can come each Wednesday?
We are supported by the Baptist Church who provide the facility and perfect location so we can accommodate approximately 100 people. For our 1st Anniversary we catered for 96 guests plus volunteers.
Q. How do you calculate the number of meals you need on the day?
Based on an average of 40+ patrons each week, I will always cook more to cater for extra guests, plus volunteers.
Q. Food allergies – do you consider it while making the food?
The nature of the service we provide and being a charity program our food is donated, therefore we are limited in offering allergy sensitive options, whatever food we receive is what we use to prepare meals with. The model provides home-style food therefore it is important that it is nutritious. Having said that, we do not prepare meals with nuts and will always provide a vegetarian option, e.g. our 3 course lunch always consists of soup for entrée which most of the time is a vegetable soup.
Q. How many people are involved in the program?
10 – 15 people. The setup, management and operations are managed fulltime by myself with the part time support of my husband Leo and assisted by approximately 10 volunteers each week.
Q. Do you have any problems finding any volunteers?
At times, yes. We were privileged to have the support of the Newport Baptist church members as volunteers when it first launched in October last year. From there our main pool of volunteers are sourced through a work for the dole program. This was a great opportunity to provide a double service to the community by also providing work and mentoring to jobseekers. We give them an opportunity to gain experience, improve skills in catering, hospitality, and customer service. It has proven to be a very successful program which has helped to sustain our volunteer pool.
Q. What does it take to be a volunteer?
We have a few volunteers that have been dedicated from the outset to volunteer their time and service to the community, these volunteers are like gold. You have to the have right attitude and heart, especially with the nature of the service we provide and because our patrons have varying needs. These are the attributes I look for and we are always looking for more suitable volunteers who are compassionate, love and respect for other people and are willing to serve and provide excellence of service.
Q. Do you ever encounter any problems?
Yes, we rely heavily on donations to sustain its operations e.g. we rely on the weekly donations at lunch to purchase other food ingredients.
Q. How long will Genevieve’s Community Kitchen be here to help the disadvantaged people in our community?
I hope forever, dictated by demand for food security within the community, this will continue to rise and so will our commitment.
Q. Are you planning to open another kitchen in other area or just where you are now?
The sky’s the limit and we are interested in pursuing other food security programs or volunteer support programs as well as partnering with other community partners and local businesses working together ‘nourishing people in need’ within the community. So we welcome expressions of interest from people who would like to become a volunteer and also the interest of potential community partners with like organisations and local business.