Hundreds of club sandwiches are hand produced and an electric knife whirs noisily, cutting them into elegant segments, at an Otago human hive of efficiency.
Women mainly aged in their sixties, seventies and eighties are doing what most of them have done for at least 20 years – preparing food for others with a mixture of focus and supportive friendship.
Camaraderie is one ingredient; a love of cooking another.
“Food preparation comes easy to me, I just enjoy doing it, working together as a team…we have a lot of fun, we learn,” says Dianna Coster, one of the regular volunteers.
She says they’re a really good team.
We’re not standing on each other’s toes, we just fill in the gaps.”
It is Christmas Eve at East Taieri Church, in Mosgiel, and its Hospitality Team is making sandwiches for about 1000 people expected to attend services later that day.
Over the past two decades, the group of 10 to 12 has also catered many times for an annual seniors’ mid-winter lunch which attracts between 90 and 100 local residents. It’s called a lunch.
“But it’s a three-course dinner really,” Team Coordinator Elaine Scurr notes.
From time to time, the Mosgiel Food Bank rings because its freezers are full of donated surplus tomatoes and capsicums.
“We just cook it up into sauces and they can give it to the Food Bank people,” Elaine says. The seasonal sauces go well with pasta, rice, sausages or similar staples.
Another volunteer, Margaret Crawford-Warden, is a cake decorator and likes dealing with food. Her mother was a good cook and baker and Margaret and her sisters followed suit.
Although one day when they were teenagers and their cake icing didn’t set, they got out the hair-dryer to see whether that would help. It didn’t.
“We learnt from experience,” she says.
Ainsley Shanks says being part of the Team is fun and a way to make friends.
It’s a way of serving really – if you’re no good at music, if you’re no good at dancing.
Once the platters of Glad-wrapped sandwiches are ready, Coordinator Elaine calls out over the knife whir for people to sit down for a cup of coffee before they clean up.
A tray holds cups, milk, sugar and a stainless steel teapot. Fresh home-made shortbread does the rounds.
“The most important part of our Team is sitting down and having morning tea!” Elaine says. When they cater for the church’s annual two or three-day conference, they can be on their feet for hours.
She says when they’ve been on their feet since 8 a.m., their husbands turn up and do the dishes at the end of the day, which makes a huge difference.
“Our husbands are very good at coming in and helping with the dishes.”
Most in the Team are over 60 years-old because younger people are often busy with young families, work and other church activities. In the past, the group included one man and Elaine says it certainly isn’t a female domain.
A legacy of giving
The volunteer Hospitality Team cooks for the Food Bank, seniors’ lunch and church events for free; and helps fund this by occasionally catering at paid celebrations such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries.
People in the parish bake Christmas cakes for the bustling Christmas Eve services. On some occasions, they’re so generous that there is too much baking, so the Food Bank benefits.
“People are always willing to give.”
No one seems quite sure how long the Team has been functioning however, after discussion, the women agree it must be at least 20 years.
“It’s been a long time…we look a bit different to when we started,” Elaine says. They’ve grown together in camaraderie and maturity.
She says they volunteer to do all this cooking and catering “to serve our church, our community and our God.”
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