Demand growing for Hot Meal Centre as times grow tougher
THE Ballina Hot Meal Centre, according to its co-ordinator, is getting a reputation as the "fastest-growing restaurant in Ballina", which is a sad indication of the number of people in the community doing it tough.
Beatrice Gray has been the co-ordinator for 14 years, but said the bi-weekly service is handing out about 50 more meals in each sitting than it did a year ago.
"I've had two to three ladies come in and they've been in tears," Beatrice said.
"They've never had to ask for help before.
"Rents are going up, electricity is going up - a lot of people are doing it tough."
The Hot Meal Centre is a soup kitchen-style service operated by Centacare, a part of St Francis Xavier Catholic Parish, and began in September 1997.
Centacare rents the Ballina Masonic Hall, at subsidised rates, for the lunches on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 11.30am to 1pm.
Beatrice said that when she first started at the centre, about 60 people used to come along for lunch, mainly men aged between 40 and 50.
Now, Beatrice said, more younger people, and more women, were heading to the centre for a meal.
The meals alone cost about $100 for each sitting, and they are prepared and served by volunteers, with 30 on the books.
Woolworths and Aldi donate bread and produce, but meat has to be bought.
All up, operating the centre costs $6000 a quarter.
The Hot Meal Centre is now calling for donations of either cash or food, particularly from those who grow fruit and vegetables and don't use them all.
Beatrice said: "It's not going to be wasted."
For more information, phone 6681 1048.