GOOD NEWS

Healthy $5 meal you can pay forward

Reaching out: Grainery church chef Deb Cook with Grainery Care's Lyn McAtamney at the church's River Cafe in Mayfield West. The church is offering a $5 meal. Individuals can purchase them and
Reaching out: Grainery church chef Deb Cook with Grainery Care's Lyn McAtamney at the church's River Cafe in Mayfield West. The church is offering a $5 meal. Individuals can purchase them and "pay it forward" to others who can't afford a meal.

A great idea will hold up in good times as well as bad.

As the coronavirus hit Australia and the ensuing lockdown restrictions brought a screeching halt to work and incomes for thousands of people in the Hunter Region, the Grainery church in Mayfield West invented a wholesome $5 meal.

Singleton wagyu beef farmers Liz and Steve Binnie played an instrumental role, making a decision to donate a significant parcel of beef to the church every week.

The Binnies had seen export demand for their high-quality product dry up during the global health crisis, and they were pivoting to distribute to the domestic market.

But, they also realised they were in a position to help others less fortunate.

"Our shared goal remains the same - we want to help feed struggling Hunter Valley families at this crucial time," Liz Binnie said.

Real deal: $5 hot meals ready to eat from River Cafe at The Grainery Church.

Real deal: $5 hot meals ready to eat from River Cafe at The Grainery Church.

More than 600 of the $5 meals were served in the first week the meals were offered at the beginning of April, with orders by phone or takeaway in person from the church's River Cafe at their Steel River complex, said Matt Madigan, business manager at The Grainery.

"We run a cafe on the church premises. It's always been a ministry of the church," Madigan said. "When COVID hit, we wanted to transition as fast as we could. We heard of people losing jobs, and wanted to pivot quickly."

The cafe's chef, Deb Cook, proposed the $5 meals.

"Then we thought, what if people could donate to others getting a meal," Madigan said. "Within half an hour a $1000 worth of meals were donated."

The donated meal receipts are pinned to cafe's Board of Blessings, ready as needed.

In the first three weeks more than 1000 of the $5 meals were served, and there were still a handful of pay-it-forward meals available.

Aided by donated wagyu mince and whole topside from Binnie Beef, a recent weekly menu (one $5 meal daily) featured Wagyu beef stroganoff with rice; chicken, sausage and tomato bake; meatballs in tomato sauce and pasta; beef burrito bowl, and shepherds pie.

Madigan said roast dinner on Sunday ($5) went from occasional to weekly because of its popularity.

"If there is anybody in community who wants to pay forward, you can call up," Madigan said. "It's not just for church people - anyone unemployed or doing it tough, and not just yourself, it can be for a family. And we can find a way to get meals to people."

"We have no idea where it ends," Madigan said of cafe's project. "We will put back the blackboard menu, burgers and bowls at regular price. But keep $5 meals to reach that cutting edge, for people doing it tougher. We want to make sure we are there for the long term."

The Grainery project is a pilot for a meals program that could reach much further.

To order a $5 meal for yourself or pay-it-forward from the River Cafe, call or text Deb Cook (0420 407 230) between 7am-2pm on weekdays, or drop by the cafe (11 Murray Dwyer Circuit, Mayfield West) and pick one up.

Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.