Share the warmth this winter.


April 24, 2024

A warm meal can go a long way in supporting someone experiencing crisis, especially during the colder months.

That’s why Uniting operate community meal programs right across Victoria and Tasmania.

From St Kilda to Sale and Ballarat to Bendigo, our meal programs offer community, connection and a hearty meal.

They also connect families and individuals to other services to support with housing, mental health, family violence, employment, disability and more.

One of these programs is Hartley’s Community Meals.

Nestled in the heart of Prahran, Hartley’s has been working to break down the stigma of food relief while supporting community and connection for over 30 years.

While everyone’s welcome, most of Hartley’s patrons are rough sleepers, crisis accommodation residents or those who can’t cook for themselves or can’t afford groceries due to issues including loss of employment, low income, family violence, increased cost-of-living and struggles with mental health.

The service has long offered vital support to the community but the team at Hartley’s is now seeing an exponential growth in need.

“We’re seeing a lot of new faces come into Hartley’s,” says Hartley’s Team Leader, Bryce.

“Last year we had over 2,000 different people come through the doors to have a meal with us.”

For many the service is much more than just a meal and a chat. Hartley’s is a gateway to other Uniting services to support people experiencing rough sleeping, family violence, financial insecurity, mental ill health, unemployment and more.

“We’re doing outreach more than we’ve ever done before,” says Bryce.

“Many people who come to the service present as homeless. They could be rough sleeping on the streets, they could be staying in their cars, or they might be in-between different accommodations.

“A lot more people are experiencing financial struggles. Whether they’re waiting for their next paycheck to come in or their pension. We’re also seeing many who are escaping family violence.”

Hartley’s volunteers with heart.

A service like Hartley’s can’t operate without volunteers.

“We have over 100 wonderful volunteers on our roster,” says Bryce.

One of these wonderful volunteers is Glennie, 81, who has been volunteering with Hartley’s for over two years. Her colourful hair and larger-than-life smile are hard to miss.

Volunteering with Hartley’s has given Glennie a new appreciation for what she has.

“When I get home, I open my door and I think how lucky I am. How fortunate,” she says.

“I work on Tuesdays, and sometimes people come in saying this is their first meal since Sunday. They haven’t eaten in a few days. It’s heartbreaking.”

Glennie has also faced adversity herself.

“My son took his own life 20 years ago, which is probably the most devastating thing that can happen to any parent,” she says.

“I was fortunate enough to have some great help. I’m a strong believer in paying it back because I say a little goes so far.”

Glennie believes the personal challenges she’s endured have allowed her to better understand and connect with the people who seek support at Hartley’s.

“Knowing how it feels to have your world crash around you, I feel connection and empathy for those who come into Hartley’s,” she says.

“Hardship can happen to any of us really. It’s just the way life deals out to you.

“But nothing gives me more pleasure than to see a smile on their face and hear their laughter. To know that I’ve brightened their day.”

Another wonderful volunteer is Jim, who in April reached a milestone of 11 years with Hartley’s.

Over the past decade, Jim has witnessed the devastating need for the service.

“We probably average about 70 people coming in a day, sometimes even up to 100,” he says.

“Winter’s a hard month. During this time most people come in almost every day. We get people who come from quite far away too. This guy, Ned*, he lives 25, 30km from here.”

With soaring rents, low wages, and a severe shortage of social and affordable housing, the hope of finding any kind of safe and secure home, putting food on the table, or paying an electricity bill is becoming a challenge for far too many.

“People’s situations are getting more and more dire. You can see it in the way they carry themselves. They’re hunched over. Exhausted,” says Jim.

“You hear people come in and say they haven’t eaten for two or three days.

“Even people who are working and earning an income come here for emergency relief and meals.

“If they’re not managing, how about others who are doing it tougher?”

Jim understands that for many a warm meal and chat can be a lifeline.

“Every little bit we can give them, it just makes their day, and then they know there are people who care about them,” he says.

With your help we can be there for people of all ages and stages of life when they need us most, thanks to programs like Hartley’s.

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