Shared dinners foster community connections in Dandenong

Funding from Baptcare’s Community Engagement Grant has seen a local church empower refugee and migrant communities and foster social cohesion in Dandenong.

The Dandenong Baptist Church has expanded its meals services to include two weekly community dinners. These dinners have fostered close connections within the community with people drawn to the homestyle meals and friendly faces. In addition to this, the church is developing a community hub, which will house a childcare centre, a counseling room and create employment opportunities.

The Hub’s project director, Naomi Paterson said the community dinners have seen a significant number of attendees – about 80 people every week.

“It was very clear that one of the basic needs was food and building community. It also catered to people who were unlikely to attend a Sunday morning service, but still cared about what the church had to offer in meeting their spiritual and everyday needs,” Mrs Paterson said.

One attendee said the Sunday night dinners gave him a family when he had none, while another said, “it makes me feel good to have someone there who is willing to listen to me”.

Dandenong dinners service

In addition to the weekly Sunday night dinners, a similar Wednesday night event has drawn in newly arrived refugees and migrants, allowing them to build new community connections and practice their English language skills.

Through these dinners the church has also engaged with mothers of asylum seeker background and provided a playgroup service once a week. Some of these women who expressed an interest in art have also joined a craft group, facilitating close friendships between the women.