The Penrith Community Kitchen is a cornerstone of the local community, providing food and friendship for the less fortunate.
This year, Australia Day Honours have been awarded to the founding members of the Kitchen, Cathy Craig and June Woolard, who volunteered their time to start the kitchen at the beginning of 1994 and who are still involved in its daily operations today.
“In 1993 around Christmas time there was an article published in one of the local papers about the Uniting Church, calling for volunteers to help start a soup kitchen. It was at the first meeting for the volunteers that I met June,” said Ms Craig.
“We spent the first six months cleaning the kitchen, doing odd jobs to get it ready.
“I had children who were getting older and June and I both wanted to volunteer a day or two per week but in December 1996 the kitchen was closed.
“We found ourselves fighting to find new funding and that was when John Martin of the Uniting Church Penrith stepped in. With Council funding we again set about cleaning out a new premises and by 1998 we were up and running again.”
Though not in its original location, the Penrith Community Kitchen has since 1998 served meals with a friendly smile to the homeless, struggling, or simply lonely.
“June and I would not only run the kitchen together but we would also do cooking for fetes, community events, cake stalls at schools… so it was definitely hard yakka in the first 10 years!” Ms Craig said.
“It is strange to think back that some of the 14 and 15-year-old young fellows who were with us right from the beginning still visit the kitchen today. I guess we both felt like mother figures to them although now they are in their thirties!”
Ms Woolard retired from the kitchen in 2008 but is still a member of the Committee and Ms Craig still works there three times per week.
“I get a lot out of it, there are such nice people there and a lovely bunch of ladies who volunteer their time to keep the kitchen running,” Ms Woolard said.
“Though it is difficult for me to work in the kitchen these days I love being involved on the committee and am so proud of all the volunteers that make the kitchen possible.”
Ms Craig and Ms Woolard were both ecstatic when they received news that they had been nominated for the Australia Day honours.
“I put the letter away so that my kids and grandkids would be able to see it, the nomination was just such a wonderful surprise. Then to receive a confirmation I was just so grateful,” Ms Craig said.
“It means so much to receive this recognition,” Ms Woolard added.
“I was going to frame the letter of nomination let alone the excitement of when I was informed I had been successful.”