18 January, 2023

“Would anyone in the community care if our church closed? Would anyone, other than church members, notice?”

This was the question the pastor of Wantirna Seventh-day Adventist Church asked his congregation six years ago. The silence that followed was uncomfortable. The members knew that if the church closed its doors, no-one in the community would notice, let alone care.

This didn’t sit well with the congregation. And so, the decision was made to partner with ADRA.

From this, the Wantirna ADRA Community Care Centre was born.

What started as a small food pantry has grown to become a crucial part of the Knox Local Government Area (LGA) in Victoria. ADRA works in partnership with the council’s emergency relief network to provide emergency food for families and individuals in crisis.

“We offer all of our clients sustenance and care but also acceptance and friendship, when for some they have known nothing but pain and rejection,” says Liz Heath, the manager at ADRA Wantirna. “We can’t change how they are treated in the world, but we can offer a safe space filled with empathy and grace.”

Liz Heath is the volunteer manager at ADRA Wantirna

The Conference ADRA Director in Victoria, Rebecca Auriant, has seen God move through the team at Wantirna.

“I remember the time when a client needed a certain baby formula which hadn’t been ordered,” says Rebecca. “But when Liz looked, it was there – the exact one! God works wonders when we step out in faith and help our brothers and sisters in need.”

For Christmas 2022, Liz and her team worked with Knox Infolink and three other local churches to help over 400 families.

“It was a massive undertaking to pack the hampers and collect toys and gift vouchers,” Liz says. “Our church family also took a special offering so that we could buy beautiful fresh produce that our clients would otherwise go without, so that people could have a beautiful Christmas period without food insecurity.”

In the lead up to Christmas, clients came every 10 minutes over two days to choose toys for their children, collect bags of produce (including berries, mangos, and pineapples), a Christmas hamper, toiletries, and a snack gift bag.

Volunteer Mackenzie helping to set up for the Christmas hamper drive

“Our clients were totally overwhelmed and many cried and hugged us,” says Liz. “Many stayed for a hot or cold drink, some snacks and a chat, and we gave everyone a copy of the Signs.

“I’m exhausted but blessed to be the hands of God and touch so many with His love.”

The Christmas drive is one example of the many ways the Wantirna ADRA Community Care Centre is supporting its local community. The Centre has partnerships with Women’s Housing, Knox Infolink, Knox Council, the Council of Churches in the Knox LGA, and FVREE, a family and violence service for women and children.

“Having the ADRA Wantirna project has changed our church and we are firmly faced outwards now and committed to outreach,” Liz says. “Now our church is flourishing, and we are known and loved by many in our community. We would most definitely be missed now.”