GALLERY: Funding in doubt for Warrawong lunch

Christmas carols and children’s giggles filled the hall at Warrawong Community Centre yesterday as plate after plate of gravy-covered turkey, ham and veggies came rolling out of the kitchen.

About 200 people turned up to enjoy the Christmas edition of the centre’s community kitchen program, which has provided a free midday meal to disadvantaged people in the Warrawong area four days a week for the past decade.

But with the future of the service in doubt, organisers had taken to calling festive lunch ‘‘the last supper’’.

The program is currently funded by the Department of Family and Community Services, but this funding is set to expire at the end of June 2014, meaning this year’s Christmas lunch may have been the last.

Maxyne Graham, manager of the Warrawong Residents Forum which runs the centre, is in the process of applying for other funding to keep the program running.

She said the lunches provided more than just food to attendees, giving company, conversation and a way to access other services.

‘‘Most of the people that come here are either estranged from their family or don’t have family, they are isolated and are not going to have a Christmas lunch.’’

‘‘It’s all about social inclusion and making people feel part of Christmas because they’re not going to have it at home.’’

As well as lunch, Santa handed out presents to the children and volunteer Phoenix Van Dyke took photographs of families for them to keep.

For Kirrili Miller, these photographs have often been the only Christmas snaps her family has had.

‘‘There’s been years I haven’t had a camera or I haven’t had money for photos and the only Christmas photos I’ve had are from here, and that goes into the family photo album and is priceless,’’ she said.

Ms Miller and her daughters had been coming to the Christmas lunch for the past seven years. She said her family would be devastated if it didn’t continue.

‘‘This is our family Christmas lunch. This is where we come, it would be weird for it to go back to just being us.’’

‘‘I’ve already lost one family through family drama and trauma and to lose this would be to lose the surrogate family I used to rebuild a support network around me and my children.’’

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