Shepherd's Table is a ministry of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Narre Warren. We operate out of the parish centre at 496 Princes Highway, Narre Warren. Shepherd’s Table arranged its first meal in January 2021. It was a wonderful collaboration between the Parish Priest, PPC, Parish community and the people who were part of the first organising committee.

In 2018 Fr Brendan mentioned that he would like a soup kitchen to operate out of the parish centre. The PPC created what we called the Outreach Group and worked as part of the PPC at first before deciding to work as a group outside of the PPC. This was done with the full support of Fr Brendan. Before Covid hit, a member of the group and her family offered to have a meal for the needy in March 2020. This was a great success and showed it could be done.

We continued to meet monthly and looked at several options, including working with St Francis Xavier College and assisting with their soup kitchen or working through St Vincent de Paul to have our own van and develop our own soup kitchen run. It was finally decided that we would prefer to have a sit-down meal on a regular basis as we were keen to provide something more than a basic meal. We wanted to provide a social experience – somewhere people could come to have a meal and at the same time enjoy the company of others and make new friends. The Catholic Church in Pakenham, as well as Transit and Back2Basics in Narre Warren, provided us with inspiration. We visited these operations to gain insight into how they worked and operated.

A slide show was created for the Parishioners to explain our concept. During Covid, this was shown to the Parish over 3 or 4 weeks at the end of mass. With Covid, of course, the masses were online, so we had no idea of the response we would receive from the Parish. We asked those interested to contact members of the group to express their interest and were pleasantly surprised by the interest shown. The next step was to get together as many as possible at a meeting to explore the concept further and get feedback from those interested.

In September 2020, we invited Kelly from Back2Basics, which is a highly successful food outreach program here in Narre Warren, to join a zoom meeting with anyone who would like to participate in sharing her experiences, successes and failures along the way. We had 25 Parishioners join us in the zoom meeting, and from that, an organising committee of 14 people was formed to develop the concept of a sit-down meal for those in need from our local area. 



This group of 14 then met on zoom monthly and developed sub-committees looking at different aspects of the

project. The work of the Pakenham Parish in developing their protocols and operating procedures was very helpful to us in developing our own protocols and operating procedures. Office bearers were elected, and a timetable was developed. It was also decided that we would require all volunteers to have a WWCC, Parish code of conduct, and complete an online Food Handling Course. We also met with Casey Council to ensure we had compliance in hand. 

Our objective was to provide a nutritious, two-course, sit-down meal every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month. Our aim was to provide a warm, friendly and welcoming environment as we believe that the social aspect is a very important part of the occasion. Shepherd’s Table welcomes anyone from our local and surrounding communities and has people attending from Narre Warren, Cranbourne, Noble Park, Dandenong and other nearby locations. The people who attend are looking for somewhere to enjoy a free meal and a friendly, accepting atmosphere.

We also developed a Charter to formalise our processes and operation for the Program. We then began thinking of a name for our project and asked the Parish for their thoughts. We did this, and a short list was created, and the decision was made to name the project Shepherd’s Table. It was then time to ask for volunteers from the parish to assist with running the meals – we had nearly 100 people give us their names.

A roster for 2021 was organised and available for all volunteers to include their names on a day that suited them. It was decided our first meal would take place on 9 January 2020. Finance was a concern initially and the Parish Finance committee offered to support us for the first 12 months. However, this never eventuated as we have received generous support from the Parish community, the City of Casey and Mary McKillop Secondary College in Leongatha. We have been fully self-supporting from the beginning.

The number of guests attending steadily built up during 2021, with Covid not really interfering as we went straight to takeaway meals once the lockdowns came. However, once we reopened again from the Covid lockdowns, the numbers attending our meals have declined due to other groups organising meals and as well providing pantries so that people attending meals could take away canned, packaged and fresh food with them. Unfortunately, we do not have the facility or personnel to have such an operation.

In the latter part of 2022, we reached out to our 3 primary schools and have provided hampers to needy families – we will continue this on a regular basis during 2023. We are taking meals to elderly people within the 

parish and made a one-off contribution to families in Rochester and Shepparton affected by flooding.

Due to the re-emergence of Covid in late 2022, we were unable to invite residents from our local aged care facilities to join us for a Christmas meal. Hence, we delivered Christmas hampers to 6 local facilities so they could enjoy some Christmas treats from Shepherds Table at their planned in-house Christmas gathering.  The facilities were enthusiastic about our meal program concept, and we hope to see some residents attend during 2023 to share a Saturday outing, lunch and conversation in a safe and friendly environment. 














During 2023 our aim is to continue providing meals, assisting needy families in local schools and supporting elderly people living alone in the parish. Our first meal in January 2023 indicated that again during 2023, the numbers attending our meals will increase. We have decided that, as a group, we need to be open to evolving as we see opportunities to assist our local community in whatever ways we can while maintaining our mission to support those in need.

Our success is due to our volunteers who do this work because there will always be people and families who need our support, and this is one way of providing it in order to assist those who have not been so fortunate. We have learnt from working with these people that it is important not to judge people by their appearance or the way they may act. Each one of us has a story, and life is full of ups and downs. Many find themselves in difficult situations through no fault of their own.

Each person we have met through this ministry likes to share their story with others who will listen, and this is important. We also share our stories with them. Each one of them is so appreciative of the meal they receive and the spirit in which it is given.


Article by: Max Bennett