Sydney Archdiocese REPORT:
22 Sep 2011
Years 5 and 6 students at St Mary's Primary School, North Sydney are not only aware of the less fortunate, but at least once a term these 10 and 11-year-olds don aprons and begin cooking up a storm, making enough lasagne or pasta bake casseroles to feed 70 or more.
Frozen, the meals are then sent to St Vincent's Catholic Church, Redfern where the food is heated up and becomes a nourishing meal for the area's homeless, poor and in need.
The Sharing of the Meal program was created more than 15 years ago by the late Father Ted Kennedy and offers a big breakfast cum lunch to those doing it tough in the Redfern area each Tuesday and Friday.
While the program has been in operation for more than a decade and a half, in the last two years it has been revitalised by Jenny Carter, a powerhouse working mum who took on the job as coordinator. Not only has Jenny made sure the meals are high in nourishment, vitamins and offer fresh fruit and vegetables, which are so often lacking in diets of those on the margins, but she has roped in a series of schools, corporations and volunteers to donate their time or meals or pitch in to help any way they can.
"We have always had a strong social awareness program at St Mary's Primary and our program each year includes a fund drive for the Jesuit Mission in India, as well as helping with the Archdiocese's Charitable Works Fund and St Vincent de Paul Society," says Elizabeth Kaye, Religious Education Coordinator at St Mary's Primary, North Sydney. "But thanks to Jenny, who came and spoke to the children, they can actually do something practical. By cooking meals, they are making something they know will help someone who is hungry. It is a powerful message."
The young students in fact become so involved that they not only cook one big meal a term for Sharing of the Meal but frequently join other classes to make and decorate cup cakes for the program, or to make individually-wrapped fruit cakes as small gifts at Christmas.
"For the big meals such as pasta bakes students, from years 5 and 6 are taken by staff to Marist College North Shore at St Leonards and use their big kitchen and ovens. But for things like the cupcakes the children often stay back after school to decorate them here and help pack them up," says Elizabeth.
"St Mary's motto is to Aim, to Aspire, to Inspire and to Make a Difference and by joining in and helping out with the Sharing the Meal program, the students are doing just that," she says.
Thanks to Jenny's persuasive powers, other schools have enthusiastically embraced the program. These include St Vincent's College, Potts Point; St Thomas' Primary, Willoughby; Loreto Kirribilli; Sacred Heart, Mosman and Cammeray Public School.
Each school takes responsibility for one big meal for 70 for the Redfern program each term, with others like St Mary's also adding other extras such as cup cakes whenever they are able.
In addition, Jenny has begun persuading various city corporations to sponsor one big barbecue breakfast a year and is hoping to find 12 corporations, so that each month Sharing the Meal can become a big barbecue of fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes and all the trimmings.
"So far we have held two great barbecues with one sponsored and staffed by volunteers from GIO and the other sponsored and staffed by Lane Cove's Baker's Delight," she says.
Now with December only a few months away, Jenny and her team of volunteers, many of whom are fellow mums from the schools her son and daughter attend, are planning the lavish Christmas feast for more than 150 of Redfern families in need as well as the homeless.
Charities such as OzHarvest and St Vincent de Paul help out with donations of vegetables and goods and Steggles donates the turkeys and hams. It promises to be a real feast with all the trimmings complete with St Mary's Primary Schools individual Christmas cakes.
"But we won't be serving plum pudding," Jenny says, pointing out other than those with a British heritage, it is not a favourite. Europeans don't like it nor do Asians or the Indigenous people of Redfern. "Instead we make big pavlovas which like all Australians, they love!"
To find out how to become a corporate sponsor one of the meals for the Sharing of the Meal program at St Vincent's Church, Redfern or to volunteer and help in some way, email firstname.lastname@example.org