The Hope Centre… From Small Beginnings
The Hope Centre began on the streets of Warrawong and surrounding suburbs in 1997. The ministry began in the Lighthouse church in Wollongong. Gally and Jeff supported the community, providing support for people experiencing homelessness and addiction – food insecurity, referrals, and where necessary, a bed. Having experienced abuse and knowing how it felt not to have food for her family, Gally helped anyone in need, regardless of their circumstances, without judgement.
Shelter and food, basic human needs, were enormous issues that were not being addressed for many. Gally and Jeff Dakers knew more was needed and, from small and humble beginnings and with support from many, have built the Hope Centre up to where it is today.
With the amazing generosity of a landlord from Sydney, the first premises were opened in a 90m2 shop in Berkeley – rent free for the entire two-and-a-half-years it was open, along with a warehouse to store overflow stock. Gally and Jeff fitted the premises with shelving and equipment purchased from garage sales, often left to the elements and in need of maintenance before they could be installed.
In the early years, Gally and Jeff would load their freezers up onto an ancient home-made trailer and travel to Sydney once a week, buying ice from the nearest service station to keep the stock in the freezers cool, and blasting the air-conditioning in the car to ensure other perishables were still in good condition for the trip back to the Illawarra. Once back they would plug in the freezers and stock the shop.
With the success of the Berkeley Food Barn a second Food Barn was opened at the same time in Warrawong the Hope Centre Church was opened in a marquee in the same location. Fruit and vegetables were sorted outside in the rain at times.
The Dakers passion to help the people was proven when they mortgaged their own family home to purchase the premises. Woolworths came to the rescue and donated a new $85,000 Food Van to assist with the one the Dakers where paying off. The location was a drawcard for vandals and the Food Barn made local news when the food vans were burnt out in 2011. By this time, the Food Barn, and the need within the community, had outgrown the Kemblawarra premises. Despite being told they would never be able to have the new 1600m2 facility they found in Warrawong, Gally and Jeff made it work, and the Hope Centre Food Barn has now been operational on Shellharbour Road since 2012.
The new facility was an empty shell. Woolworths came on board with a generous donation of $50,000 to fit a commercial kitchen for welfare and community meals.
The Dakers are included on the Woolworths website and where in a Woolworths commercial that went Australia wide. Coles with Secondbite, Woolworths, IGA, Good Guys, Hino joined in, and partners grew and the capacity for food rescue increased.
Today, the Hope Centre provides good quality, cost-effective food to many people and houses the distribution centre for the Illawarra Food Hub. The initiative of Wollongong, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven and Kiama councils in joint collaboration helped to introduce the IFH and helped to secure through EPA a $400,000 infrastructure grant to upgrade and purchase three new trucks, forklift and a freezer container .IPJO secured a years funding from the collaboration to provide wages for the Co ordinator of the IFH in the distribution of rescued food. The Hope Centre also houses a café and community kitchen, training facility, provides work experience opportunities and continues to provide support and agency referrals for people experiencing a range of issues including homelessness, financial difficulties, addiction and family violence.
The Illawarra Food Hub provides resources and food vouchers for Agencies, school breakfast programmes, community organisations, churches, community centres etc. to help their work in the community. The Hope Centre works with Centrelink by providing on site help for clients houses and works with Dress For Success who are a worldwide program aimed at assisting woman experiencing a disadvantage to look and feel confident in preparation for job interviews, and the ethos aligns perfectly with the work already done at the Hope Centre.
Going from nothing to a massive going concern, rescuing in excess of 58 tonnes of food each week,2600 meals, 2500 food hampers, 2100 outreach meals, supplies to multiple school programmes and supplies to welfare agencies.
Now outgrowing its current premises, all without government funding, is an amazing outcome.
Reverends Jeff and Gally believe strongly that God has guided and supported them every step of the way, and made things happen that otherwise would not have been possible.
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to help”
Proverbs 3:27 NIV Bible