Photo: NationsHeart Community Co-ordinator Scott with FoodHut regular Wendell Charles NeSmith

By Emily Ferguson

Local resident Wendell Charles NeSmith is a regular face at the FoodHut run by NationsHeart Christian Community in Canberra – but it’s not just access to low-cost food that draws him.

“I’m not the richest person in the world and because of the FoodHut I can eat well, otherwise it would be very difficult,” he says.

“But it wasn’t the food that got me coming back each week.  It was Scott (NationsHeart’s Community Coordinator) who took the time to get to know me, and what I was about.  That’s what really got me into community – that someone actually cared.”

It’s for exactly that reason that the NationsHeart Ministry Team worked hard to keep the ministry running throughout the coronavirus crisis.

“To not remain open, I think my heart would have broken,” says Naomi Giles, Ministry Team Leader at NationsHeart. “People come here not only for food but because they experience connection and belonging in a place where they are known by name. With everything changing so rapidly in the wider community, the patterns that give them hope and comfort were all disrupted. This kind of challenge can tip them into a very hard place.”

For many of those people, challenges like having a disability, a mental health condition, an unstable home environment or no job to go to each day were made even more overwhelming by the loss of consistent weekly touchpoints and familiar places to turn for food and connection.

 “There has been a very deep impact on those we welcome in through our FoodHut and community meal, and I think isolation has had ripple effects beyond what we can probably comprehend at this point,” said Naomi.

The NationsHeart team worked quickly to figure out what changes would be necessary to stay open. By transforming their community meal into a takeaway service, introducing multiple new systems and procedures as well as screening protocols for entry to the building, they were able to do it.

“For me, God’s heart is for us to have open doors, open hearts and open hands, and I’m so grateful that we were able to scramble together and continue to do that in a very uncertain time. The changes meant we could still open the same days and hours as before and keep that familiar connection point with people who really need that.”

NationsHeart is about to complete a new Community Hub to house the FoodHut and provide more space for community connection to grow. 

The project has been supported widely in the local community, with many people making donations and helping with fundraising initiatives.

The NationsHeart team has been praying and dreaming about what new things might emerge in this Community Hub to further express God’s compassion and love for all.

“This time has activated us in a different way: we have all had to be very agile and adaptive, open to doing things differently. Now we are asking: what else could we do?”

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