Alison Mountfort, Jo Parkinson and Wayne Moss are volunteers at Loaves and Fishes which has helped people in need for more than 30 years. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Filling hunger and loneliness


Since 1987, Loaves and Fishes on Vanguard St has helped get people through hungry and lonely times. Charles Anderson sits down for lunch for 2020’s first meal.

Down the back of All Saints Church on Vanguard St, people slowly stream through the doors of the hall. There is a spattering of diners today.

“Usually there is more,” says volunteer Jo Parkinson, who mans the ticket booth. But this is the first day back after the holiday season. It’s expected that numbers will soon grow.

Here, you can get a hot cooked meal and dessert for $3, or even cheaper if you buy in bulk.

The Loaves and Fishes project started in Oct 1987. Archdeacon Welch, vicar of All Saints at the time, was quoted in the Nelson Mail: “This meal service is starting due to an ever-increasing gap between the haves and have-nots.”

In the more than 30 years since then, hot, dinner-type lunches have been provided by teams of volunteers in the hall behind the church on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

And the gap between the haves and have-nots has not stopped growing.

Alison Mountfort, who has run the programme for the past six years, says there is a real need for what they do, even if it’s not always clear.

However, she says, for some, it’s not the food that is the drawcard, it is the company.

“Some people say, ‘actually have food, but unless I come out I’ve got no opportunity to talk to anyone’. We are filling a social need and a hunger need.”

Alison says diners come and go from time to time, as their circumstances change.

What they frequently have in common is the challenge of dealing with the complexities of life such as filling in forms, accessing the internet, and negotiating for reasonable rent or benefit entitlements.

“We offer the opportunity for our diners to meet and make friends.”

Down the back of the room is Jeff Gill. He has been coming for 15 years – for the food but mainly for the company. He helps out in the church’s veggie garden which keeps him active. But he really likes coming to Loaves and Fishes because it’s “real”.

“Some live alone and don’t cook for themselves. Some live rough, you get to know who is sleeping in their cars and underneath bridges and that sort of thing.”

He says you get to meet people you wouldn’t anywhere else.

“With Nelson, they hide the fact there is people living that way. It gives you a better insight into what’s underneath. Its real.”

For Jo Parkinson it was an opportunity to do something useful.

She started volunteering when she left work several years ago. She greets the diners as they come into pay. She knows them all by name.

“There is a real mix of people but usually more men. The big thing is pride and intimidation.”

However, she says that everything is hard the first time.

“Once you have sat down and had lunch with someone, it’s so much easier to come by the next time.”

Wayne Moss comes down to Loaves and Fishes once a week to cook.

He is trained and felt like it was something he could do to help.

“I just use whatever we have that day and try and be creative with it,” he says.

Today it is quiche with breadcrumbs. Alison says they make good use of Kai Rescue and also have generous sponsors that provide food. But she says it is still amazing that people have not heard of them.

“I would just say to anyone who wants to join us, that you are welcome.”