Bringing people together over supper

JOHN HARVEY

Anglican minister Dave Meldrum cuts a relaxed figure in his offices at St Peter’s Church in Mowbray.

He has already cheerfully waved away any appellation to his name. “It’s just Dave,” he says, taking his seat and buttressing the impression that he is simply another member of his community.

It is clear that he feels at home here, despite only having arrived in Cape Town six years ago from the UK, together with his photographer wife Bev.

“We were based in London, but I had felt that God was calling us to South Africa,” Mr Meldrum explained.

“In 2009, we attended a wedding in Kenilworth. When we went back to London, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to go back. I was looking to support a church in Cape Town, and (Cape Town parish rector) Duncan McLea was the point of contact between me and St Peter’s. That’s how we came to settle in Mowbray in 2010.”

The little church in Victoria Road proved to be exactly what the Meldrums were looking for.

“We love the diversity of the area; how busy it is. You have people from all over the world coming here, and there is a real sense of community among people.”

It was this that prompted the Meldrums, who now foster two children, a 13-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl, to embark on a unique project that has since come to be something of a Mowbray institution.

“About four or five years ago, I asked myself what it was that Mowbray needed. As I have mentioned, it is a very busy area with people from all walks of life, so I thought, ‘why not host a meal and see who comes?’

“So we produced a series of fliers, inviting people to come over for supper on Thursday nights.

“At first it was mainly residents, but soon word got round to poorer people and the homeless. Today we have between 100 and 120 mainly homeless people joining us for a sit-down dinner.”

The Thursday night community supper is not a soup kitchen. It aims to bring people together so they might forge lasting relationships over a warm meal and friendly banter.

“I don’t know of another community supper like this in Cape Town. We have between 20 and 30 volunteers who help out on everything from the preparation of food to washing up the dinnerware. The difference here, as opposed to a soup kitchen, is that people are sat down and served at the table.

“People, by their nature, are creatures of habit, so we enjoy being able to contribute to an enjoyable routine. As a result of the community supper, we have started to see people becoming more open. We do not see it as a way to get more people to church on Sunday, but rather as a different type of worshipping session.”

He said it was important that events such as these brought the church to people on their own terms.

“We try not to be prescriptive in our work. We just hope that what we are doing is being obedient to what God wants of us.”

One of the volunteer cooks, Patience Muganguzi, said it was a privilege to provide hot meals to the homeless each week.

“I really enjoy it. It makes me very happy. I really enjoy cooking, particularly lasagna, spaghetti bolognese and vetkoek. I actually get sad when we don’t have one of these nights,” she said.

The community supper is not the only outreach project run by St Peter’s. The church also supports several foster homes and works closely with shelters to house the homeless.

In addition, a small group of elderly ladies knits beanies and clothing for children who are patients at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

* Members of the public who would like to contribute to St Peter’s programmes can call 021 689 1903 or email office@stpetersmowbray.org.za