Every Tuesday morning close to a hundred people line up outside this church in Liverpool, a suburb in Sydney’s south west. Far from the multimillion dollar homes and the stunning harbour views, it’s a working class suburb that is growing with new migrants and refugees.
I am sure there are people living comfortably here. But for many, this is a place of grinding poverty; of high rents and low incomes. Where the cost of electricity bills saps whatever is left of the family budget and $2 can mean the difference between food on the table or going hungry.
The local charity has opened a fresh food day at the church. People on a pension, welfare or immigration card can pick up two bags of fresh vegetables and fruit for a gold coin donation. The queue is long. So is the wait. There are people who have been there an hour before the door opens.
The church has set up tables and chairs for people to sit and chat. They offer a simple cup of tea or coffee. Many take up the offer and do just that. For some it’s their only opportunity to socialise without a strain on their tight family budget.
It’s here I meet C. She is a single mum of two school aged kids. She was working full time until her marriage broke up and her youngest started school. There were domestic violence issues. Her family was back in the Philippines and could not help. She just couldn’t juggle full time work and school hours on her own.
She started part-time work as a carer of people with disabilities. But that work, while flexible, is too irregular to pay all the bills. That is why she is here. To get two bags of fresh food for $2 so that her children will have something nutritious to eat that week.
“I don’t know how I would cope without fresh food Tuesday,” she tells me.
“I come here every week. My children will probably be surviving on 2 minute noodles without it.”
She is also lonely and isolated. She was someone back in the Philippines. She was a career woman who worked as a police liaison officer. She had friends and family there. She gave it all up to follow her heart. To move to another country with her now ex-husband. Here, she had to start over again. Her qualifications were not recognised and with no local work experience, it must have taken a while to get her last full-time job.
The culture shock was also enormous.
“People say hello and just walk by here! Back home when someone says hello, you stop and chat. You tell them what’s happening in your life, even if you’re just about to do the laundry,” she explains.
“They are so casual with their ‘love’ and ‘darling’ here too. No worries love, they say. For a while it was too familiar.”
C. mentions that fresh food Tuesday is more than just food. She is able to find people with similar struggles here and social workers to talk to. She is doing her best to push through her challenges. She is getting help where she can, and she is fighting to make this difficult time as brief as possible.
“I just applied to study law,” she reveals. “I know it will be five years of hard work, but I’ve got to do something.”
She has also managed to acquire a Certificate 3 in Auslan and has been supporting people in the deaf community.
“Helping others gets you focusing outside your own problems. You get to see that you can help. That you can contribute. I want to do the best I can to make a difference.”
They call her number and she leaves to collect her food. She smiles and waves good bye. Our brief chat is over. I read the slogan on her black t-shirt. “Where there is life, there is hope” it says.