Every week Pam Kelly cooks lunch for 50 people, with fun, food and fellowship on the menu.
Retirement is long-awaited and relished by many. But for Pam Kelly, the idea of stopping work was daunting, and when it happened, she grew incredibly lonely. She’d always been a woman of action, so she moved quickly to source some volunteer work.
A resident of Craigieburn, north of Melbourne, Pam stopped one day to have a chat with the regular Salvation Army volunteer at her local shopping centre.
“Do you like to cook?” she was asked, to which she quickly replied in the affirmative. Pam and her former husband used to have a catering business. The next thing she knew, she was assisting at Craigieburn Salvation Army’s weekly community lunch.
“I have a son in his 40s who has a lot of problems and a disability ... and you feel a bit isolated,” she said. “When I first walked in there, everyone came up and gave me a nice little hug and I nearly burst into tears. I’ve never felt so welcomed and part of the place. I think I really needed that at the time.”
After a few months of assisting, Pam became the volunteer coordinator of the lunch and it’s clear that she is in her element. She does all the shopping for the event, and coordinates the recipes and volunteers on the day, who include local disability service volunteers and school groups, as well as occasional corporate volunteers.
“The Broadmeadows Disability Services [BDS] clients share our premises on weekdays and are encouraged to assist with serving the meal, setting up and cleaning the dining room,” she says.
“In doing this they can also learn about health and safety issues, food-handling practice and they can attain a certificate in dining room and kitchen assistant competency.
“We present their certificates at one of the lunches. They come up on stage and they just think it’s so wonderful.”
Up to 50 people attend the community lunch. Some are lonely, some are struggling financially, some are experiencing homelessness. It’s a community where faith is shared and explored in a relaxed way. Each luncheon starts with a number of worship songs, a prayer before the meal and a short talk.
Corps officers (ministers) Pete and Jo Brookshaw say Pam’s arrival to take on coordination of the community lunch was an answer to prayer.
“We started praying at the end of last year for someone and then Pam comes along,” Pete says.
“Her mum and grandma used to run a cafe and she used to be the kitchen hand. She’s also got a Certificate IV in Disability, she’s done leadership and hospitality — Pam just ticked every box!”
Although she doesn’t attend Craigieburn Salvation Army’s Sunday service, Pete says Pam is “as Salvo as they get”.
“For us, not all the roads lead to Sunday morning. Pam is clearly being transformed by Jesus; there’s no doubt about that. Even the disability volunteers are being transformed by Jesus. You can see it when one of them has tears in their eyes after we sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at the community lunch and you think, ‘God is doing the work here’.”
Pam leaves the possibility of ‘divine intervention’ leading her to the Salvos quite open.
“I never question that. A lot of things happen in your life and you think, ‘Gosh, that just came along at the right time.’ I mean, I needed them as much as they needed me so, who knows?” she says.
“I’ve made a lot more friends and I’m really enjoying retirement!”