Partnering with Foodshare to Make Meals That Matter

Mercy Connect opened the Bottlebrush Cafe in early 2017 at its Thurgoona Head Office. Bottlebrush Cafe is just one of several day programs that Mercy Connect provide to people with a disability to live a connected and meaningful life in their communities.

The cafe, originally opened two days a week, provides the opportunity for participants to learn and develop skills in the kitchen. Each week a different meal is made, meaning different skill sets are being developed.

The participants enjoyed making healthy fresh meals and they wanted to share their love of cooking in the kitchen, so early this year, Mercy Connect partnered with FoodShare in Wodonga to provide meals to those in our community that need a helping hand.

Each Thursday, three participants, along with their support staff make their way to the FoodShare warehouse. They pick up the ingredients and take them back to the kitchen. They then spend the rest of the day preparing and cooking the meal in bulk. Due to not knowing what ingredients are available until they arrive at the warehouse, it gives the participants the opportunity to be creative and come up with recopies on the spot.

The meals they cook can be frozen and the following Tuesday, fellow participant Robbie and DSW Annette go around to all the Mercy Connect Outreach participants and provide them with a home cooked meal. Some of the meals they’ve cooked so far include curried sausages, shephard’s pie, lamp chop bake, lasagna and chicken casserole.

Albury-Wodonga Regional Foodshare was established as an not-for-profit company in 2011. They rescue and share food and meals with welfare agencies, schools and neighborhood houses in the Albury-Wodonga region. Their vision is “Everyone in our region has access to sufficient healthy and culturally appropriate food for good health – no one goes hungry”.

With their vision aligning with the cafe’s own vision to create a range of healthy, fresh food, plans started in late 2018 for Mercy Connect to get involved with the FoodShare scheme.

When asked why it’s a great program, Jessica Kolarich (Bottlebrush Cafe Coordinator) said, “It’s just fun to participate in. Food isn’t getting wasted, it’s always fresh food and our Outreach participants are receiving a nice home cooked meal each week”.

Daniel is a keen participant in the FoodShare initiative. He explained that he loves the whole experience, “I’m excited to work with the team every Thursday. I enjoy going in the car altogether to go over to Wodonga to the FoodShare warehouse to pick up ingredients”.

“Until we see what ingredients are available, we don’t know what we are making in the kitchen so it’s pretty exciting to come up with something together. It’s a surprise”, he said.

Daniel who has been with Mercy Connect for 10 years, participates in day program activities each day of the week. His favourite programs include Branching Out on a Monday with the guys, where his favourite thing to do is lawn mowing. Daniel praises the efforts of Richard (Branching Out Coordinator). “He is always so helpful and gives you a helping hand to get the task done”

Two days a week he works in the Bottlebrush Cafe, not only participating in FoodShare on a Thursday but cooking up a meals for customers on a Wednesday. He thanked Jessica for being a ‘very nice person and helping to develop essential skills needed in the workplace’.

On a Friday, Daniel attends Wodonga TAFE with a number of other participants, as they learn and develop new skills in a TAFE setting.

The program run our of St John’s in Thurgoona focuses on developing work skills and providing work ready programs for the participants. Daniel said “These programs will help me go out there and get a job one day. My dream job would be advocating Aboriginal culture, as we’ve got to keep the culture going”.

Photos (L-R): Support Worker Marianne Myers, participants Daniel and Susan, and Jessica Kolarich, the Bottlebrush Cafe Coordinator.