Well-loved community café Manna Haven, a ministry of Byron Bay, Alstonville, and Ballina Seventh-day Adventist Churches in New South Wales, Australia, among others, is distributing meal vouchers to backpackers, families, and individuals struggling to make ends meet as a result of COVID-19.
Customers, church members and people from the community have so far purchased more than 200 meal vouchers to feed people in need, at a cost of AU$14 (US$9) per meal.
”I’ve been giving the vouchers to the local fruit and veggie shop and the local organic shop; I gave some to a lady who lives with a house full of backpackers out of work. Some I’ve given to social workers at the local hospitals to give to people in need,” explained head chef and Alstonville Church member Bryce Wegener.
The meal voucher initiative was proposed during a Manna Haven board meeting when members (representatives from various Adventist churches in the area) made the decision to keep Manna Haven open during COVID-19.
“When COVID-19 hit and we didn’t know whether to continue operating or not, our regulars were begging us not to close,” said Wegener. “But we’ve lost about 70 percent of our customers.”
Despite the drop in sales, Wegener says that the uncertain times have caused customers to be more open to spiritual conversations.
“In the initial stages of COVID-19, many locals coming in were asking questions,” he explained. “A guy from the dress shop down road was asking if it was the end of the world. People aren’t so safe in their worldliness anymore, and it creates opportunities.”
With a large proportion of Byron Bay’s population being internationals and tourists, people’s spiritual beliefs and practices are diverse.
“It’s a real battlefield,” said Wegener. “New age practices and meditation are huge here and anything goes spiritually. What’s a real battle for me is that people are happy that you believe in Jesus and that you’re a Christian and a lot of them will say they believe that too, but still believe in and practice new age spirituality.”