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John’s Kitchen at the Crossroads

Blenheim community supports medical care for migrant workers

By Marie Sherry

Wesley Methodist Church’s John’s Kitchen programme in Blenheim has been such a success, organisers are now forming a trust to expand its work and provide medical support for families in need.

Members of the Crossroads Trust - Police community laiason officer Stu Phillips, head of Marlborough Primary Health Organisation Allie Shaw, Kaikoura MP Colin King, Marborough Mayor Alistar Sowman, Crossroads Trust secretary David Rudd, Crosroads Trust chairperson Yvonne Dasler, Marborough Migrant Centre executive officer Andreja Phillips, Crossroads Trust Tongan representative Sislia Foliaki, Rev Wallis Browne, Crossroads Trust member Peter Stubbs. Photographer Scott Hammond. Photo courtesy Marborough Express.

John’s Kitchen was established by the Wesley Methodist in 2000 as a millennium gift to the people of Blenheim. Convenor Yvonne Dasler says John’s Kitchen provides a two-course meal at the church every Wednesday night.

“From the moment it started John’s Kitchen captured the imagination of the people in Blenheim. It’s been supported whole heartedly,” Yvonne says. “Christ’s love is unconditional and so is ours.”

John’s Kitchen serves about 3000 meals a year, with about 75 people generally attending each week. Dessert is offered with the meals and is considered a special treat by many diners.

John’s Kitchen is run by volunteers, who do not have to comply with a roster but instead turn up as often as they feel like it. Diners make a small donation, funds are raised in the community and by other churches, and a considerable amount of food is donated. Yvonne says Blenheim’s Indian community is particularly generous.

John’s Kitchen starts when school goes back in early February and runs right through until Christmas Early in the year is often a difficult financial time for families, with large school costs following closely behind Christmas.

Along with families and the elderly, John’s Kitchen attracts a lot of migrants and newcomers to Blenheim. Many of them are among the 8,000 workers required to support Marlborough’s wine industry.

Yvonne says organisers were concerned about the lack of medical care available to many people dining at John’s Kitchen.

“A lot of people can’t budget because they’ve had medical costs and some people can’t get into a doctor. There are about 4,500 people in Blenheim who cannot afford or get access to a doctor in Blenheim and that is out of a population of 20,000.

“They include workers in the vineyards and wineries. Many of them are from the Pacific Islands, Asia, South America and Europe. Unlike New Zealanders they are not eligible for medical care. Often workers from the Pacific Islands bring their families with them. The children do not have resistance to diseases like measles and the flu and many cannot afford immunisation,” Yvonne says.

In response, the Wesley Methodist Church has formed the Crossroads Trust, which will eventually employ its own doctor within a clinic. Other short-term services such as budgeting and stop-smoking services will also be considered.

“John’s Kitchen will probably come under the umbrella of the Crossroads Trust, which will broaden its grounds to cover a wide range of services,” says Yvonne, who is also trust chairperson.

Crossroads Trust is receiving huge backing in the community, which recognises the need for an umbrella organisation that delivers medical care and migrant services.

“This is mainly for newcomers in Blenheim, which includes retired people as it’s a popular retirement community. Older people coming into the community find it hard to find medical care.”

Organisers are currently seeking premises for the medical clinic, because there is no suitable location on the church property.

“We have a doctor currently working as a locum who will come on board. It will be part-time initially but it should pick up. We’re hoping to grow it gradually and other doctors have indicated their willingness to come in as well,” Yvonne says.

“It shows you how if you do things in faith you can go forward. It’s an idea whose time has come for Blenheim. It just proves that Methodism is relevant in this day and age.”

Wesley Methodist Church minister Rev Wallis Browne says many temporary workers in the region’s vineyards are not covered by the primary health services.

“That’s what the whole thing is about. Crossroads Trust is going to be big. We have so many offers of help and people ready to jump in.”