Sandra Gordon, Associate Pastor at Caversham Baptist Church, shares how God inspired her church to transform how they serve the families in their community. 

A single street separates our church from Carisbrook Primary School in Dunedin. God has literally placed Caversham Baptist Church directly across the road from a low-decile primary school filled with families in need of the love of his people. 

What started out as simply sharing our car park with parents for school drop off and pick up has now become a close working relationship. We support families in need and even fill positions at the school with passionate members of our church: from board members, a receptionist, a caretaker, to even the school’s new principal.

At Christmas, our church took on the massive task of sourcing stock for food parcels for 100 of the school’s families. The hampers were hoped to ease the financial pressures around Christmas, as many families rely on the school’s free breakfast and lunch programmes which are closed during the summer holidays. 

Our church called out for donations, and we were overwhelmed by the response from local businesses and church members. We managed to obtain $17,000, which meant each family took home a box filled generously with meat, fresh produce, pantry staples and seasonal sweet treats. 

However, we were challenged to adapt our plans a few days before handing out the parcels in what could best be described as a God-inspired moment. 

We had come across Otago University’s report: Paying with Dignity: The Human Cost of Food Charity. The research by Dr Katharine Cresswell Riol and Jonathan Robinson on behalf of Kiwi churches and faith-based groups caused us to reconsider how we were best serving the families God had placed in front of us. 

The report argued that while food banks play an important role in feeding the hungry, they can contribute to the stigma of those in impoverished situations. It also questioned whether food banks are simply a bandaid that looks past the shortcomings of social welfare in our country. 

After reading this report, we began to rethink our process of giving out the Christmas food hampers to ensure our recipients maintained their God-given dignity.

Time was not on our side, but we managed to come up with a few things to minimise feelings of being disrespected:

Firstly, we gave vouchers to the school’s Deputy Principal to give to whoever he decided needed a parcel. He knew the families well and had a relationship with them; we didn’t. We didn’t need to check off names and addresses from a list, and this meant people could anonymously receive the parcels. 

Secondly, we dressed up with Santa hats and decorated the church hall completed with Christmas music to make the pick-up area festive, fun and lighthearted.

From there, we put the bags for each parcel on a trolley for each recipient and directed them to tables labelled ‘SWAP IT/ADD IT’. This invited them to swap anything they wouldn’t use for something they would, acknowledging different people have different needs and preferences. 

The team moved away to allow the recipients to help themselves in their own time. We also ensured a table had plenty of vegetarian and halal options to cater to various cultures and religions. 

We are very grateful for the report and how it informed our practice, even at the eleventh hour! It was a start, and we plan to modify things further next year to make the experience even more positive for the recipients. 

In 2022, the Otago & Southland Baptist Association Hui challenged us to get our imaginations working and maximise the opportunities at our doorstep. The National Baptist leaders shared how they had the vision of ‘Every New Zealand Baptist Church committed to a people and place, in a relationship of mutual gospel renewal’.

This vision has given us the words to articulate what God is leading us to do. We are committing to the people he has placed in front of us that they might “learn, receive, give, teach, and be transformed”.

In the case of us here at Caversham Baptist, this is a primary school - and we are excited to see God continue to nudge us towards a relationship of mutual gospel renewal.

Photo supplied by Sandra Gordon

Hear more about the Paying with Dignity: The Human Cost of Food Charity report and its impact in this story from Jonathan Robinson:

“Paying with Dignity”: A mustard seed story

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