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A ‘lovely hot meal’ goes a long way

A Wairarapa church is spreading love throughout the community – through the “international language” of a hearty, home-cooked meal.

Since late last year, Masterton Community Church has hosted Community Kai, a free, all-comers sit-down dinner, held at the church’s Ngaumutawa Rd building on Monday evenings.

The first Community Kai event kicked off in September — with a simple mince meal on the menu, a small crew helping out in the kitchen, and about 20 guests in attendance.

Several months on, the church feeds between 80 and 100 people each week — with about 120 guests showing up to a Christmas-themed dinner on December 19.

Supported by an active team of volunteers, Community Kai has a range of “comfort foods” — including artfully plated desserts — on offer, made possible with donations from local businesses and members of the public.

The event was founded by MCC congregants and friends Jo Twiggins and Michelle Koskela, to help combat food insecurity and loneliness in the Wairarapa community.

The dinner is open to anyone, regardless of faith or church affiliation: And has attracted everyone from residents from nearby Panama Village, to solo parents, to younger couples who have recently moved to the area.

Twiggins was inspired to set up Community Kai after reading a book called Surprise the World – about “sharing the gospel” through acts of service.

“You don’t need to stand on stage and preach about the love of Jesus – when you can show it living your everyday life,” she said.

“One of the ways we show love is through food. Food is an international language – it breaks down so many barriers.

“It was important to us to put love into action. And we’re doing that by feeding people who are living alone and are struggling to put food on the table seven nights a week.

“We wanted to do a special event — where people can sit down and enjoy an old-fashioned, lovely hot meal that’s been cooked especially for them. And they don’t have to worry about doing dishes!”

Twiggins said she and Koskela discussed the idea for a community dinner over coffee in late August – and put plans into action “very quickly”.

“We had our first dinner on September 5. We thought we may as well just pick a date and go for it.”

After advertising the event on social media, the friends assembled a volunteer team and prepared their first meal – savoury mince “en masse” – with donations from New World Masterton and Waiwaste.

As time went on, and more volunteers signed up, the menu became more adventurous, with staples such as Thai chicken curry, lasagne, nachos, roast lamb and chicken à la king.

“We’re aiming for dense, hearty, good-quality meals – solid comfort food,” Twiggins said

“A lot of the meals are the things we make at home for our families. We just go online for instructions on how to quadruple the recipe!”

Desserts include fruit sponges, steamed puddings and pavlova – “beautifully” presented by Koskela, who has a catering background.

Adding to the dinner-time ambience is Masterton entertainer Karaoke Joe, who volunteered to provide live music every Monday.

Twiggins said the event has had “amazing” support: New World provides vouchers to cover the ingredients, businesses such as Parkvale Mushrooms, Wee Red Barn, The Warehouse, and Eketahuna Country Meats have contributed supplies, and community members have dropped off food and cash donations.

“Some people bring us money, others will come with a bag of onions or a whole lot of eggs. We’ve never felt like we’re running out of resources.”

She said feedback from guests has been “super”.

“We see people coming back week after week. They feel so welcome.

“Many people who come aren’t churchgoers – and a lot of our volunteers are non-Christian. We wanted to create an environment where everyone feels included, and no one feels judged.”

Community Kai is held at 5.30 pm each Monday at Masterton Community Church, 117 Ngaumutawa Rd. For more information, contact Jo Twiggins at [email protected].

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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