General Convention of Synod delegates at Rochedale can’t miss the little yellow van in the parking lot. Convention hosts, Our Saviour Lutheran Church and Redeemer Lutheran College, are working in partnership to help their community by taking the van out every Friday night. From it, they provide hot food and drinks, as well as companionship, to people in need.
Volunteers from both the school and the congregation take the van out every Friday night on a set route with three drop points.
‘The first drop point is a housing commission complex where a large number of elderly and disabled people reside. This has developed into community sharing that is simply great’, says school chaplain Colin Stiller. ‘The second is a refuge for children and women. They have been eager to see the yellow van that produces hot dogs, milos and other beneficial items that are desperately needed. Finally we stop at the Mt Gravatt Community Centre to share light snacks and a warm cuppa with a young group of Christians from Burundi who meet there each week before going off to the city to evangelise. They enjoy our support and fellowship.’
While the van supplies food and warm drinks, Colin says the big thing is really socialising with people and building friendships. ‘The focus is on the people we help, not ourselves, and they appreciate that. People have come to trust the yellow van; even new kids on the van are treated like old friends which stops them getting nervous.’
During term time the school has responsibility for the van and the congregation looks after it during the holidays. However, Colin says, ‘The reality is that there are a lot of crossovers with people willing to help at different times and even past students returning to help out after they’ve left school’. Students help make sandwiches on Fridays for the night ahead, an option taken up by many, especially the year eights and nines who are too young to go out with the van. Once students are in grades ten and above, they are able to go out on Friday nights and the project has proven so popular, a strict roster has not been required.
The Helping Hands van has been running for almost 15 months in Rochedale and has become a wide-reaching community effort with a Toowoomba bakery contributing bread and the school running food drives and free dress days to raise money and collect tins. School staff and congregation members bake homemade goodies. One local business has donated brand new shoes while congregation members have donated blankets and items of clothing that are especially appreciated at the women’s refuge where often women and children have only what they arrive with.
The van was donated by a charity called Helping Hands which began with a group of guys in a suburban garage in Queensland. There are now yellow vans servicing Ipswich, Brisbane City and Mt Gravatt.
There are so many heart-warming stories of people working together to help people who are struggling that Colin is ‘proud as punch’ of how it has all evolved. From the early days of risk assessment and finding safe places to stop for the students involved, to the endeavour generating incredible stories of outreach and companionship it has been a tremendous success. ‘The food van has touched the lives of many,’ says Colin, ‘It looks like it’s going to keep going, getting stronger and stronger.’
Last night, Tuesday, 29 September, over 700 delegates, LCA officials and guests packed the Redeemer Lutheran College chapel for the opening service of the 18th General Convention of Synod.