'Neighbours Van' drives support for struggling refugees

The booming city of Logan between Brisbane and the Gold Coast is home to more than 327,000 people from more than 217 different cultures. The area has enjoyed unprecedented population and housing growth over the past decade, attracting an influx of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants. With housing insecurity and lack of transport to access employment and services, many residents turn to welfare agencies for help.

The situation has driven a desire by volunteers from Gateway Baptist Church to support refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the Logan community.

The church operates the ‘Neighbours Van,’ a mobile shop that visits Logan Central Plaza each fortnight. Church volunteers give away clothing and groceries to people in need who have been referred by local welfare agencies. Since June, the Neighbours Van has supported about 800 people from 200 family units, originally from 12 nations across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The Neighbours Van is supported by the Collaborative Community Projects, run by Queensland not-for-profit, Carinity. The program funds community outreach programs run by Baptist churches that aim to relieve economic disadvantage, promote connectivity for vulnerable people, and increase the strength of local neighbourhoods.

“We can’t fix everybody’s problems, but we want to show them that they’re seen, loved and heard.” – Sarah Watterson

Gateway Baptist Church used its funding to buy a vehicle and convert it into a shop on wheels, from which free items are distributed to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Drop-in visitors can enjoy a free morning tea and receive a free item of clothing donated by the community.

“We’re trying to build relationships with people. Everybody that comes to us is walking through a really tough time,” says Gateway Baptist Church Care Pastor Sarah Watterson.

“We find it amazing how quickly people open up to complete strangers and tell us what’s going on in their lives. Some of the stories people have are pretty horrific because a lot of them have come from terrible traumas overseas. We can’t fix everybody’s problems, but we want to show them that they’re seen, loved and heard.”

“A lot of the people who come here really need someone to just talk to them and listen to them.” – Manika Ali Khan

Originally from Afghanistan, Manika Ali Khan moved to Logan five years ago. She says the Neighbours Van is bringing hope to refugees and migrants who are struggling with the rising cost of living.

The Neighbours Van gives away free clothing and groceries to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in need living in Logan.

But Manika believes the social connections that have developed between local families and church members are just as important as the free food and clothing.

“A very kind person introduced me to this. I love the people – they are so nice and very lovely. They try so hard to help us with what we need. When people come and meet others, it means so much to them. A lot of the people who come here really need someone to just talk to them and listen to them,” Manika said.

Gateway Baptist Church, which has five campuses around the Greater Brisbane area, is now looking to expand its Neighbours Van program.

“With the incredible generosity of Carinity, we’re going to be able to purchase another van next year and expand this ministry,” Sarah said.

“We have big hopes and dreams for expanding into Brisbane City, where our church’s city campus supports homeless people, and also service the islands near the Redlands, which have a lot of people who are really disadvantaged.”

Neighbours Van manager Sarah Watterson with Gateway Baptist Church volunteers

Gateway Baptist Church was one of 14 churches awarded funding from the inaugural Collaborative Community Projects. The funding program builds on the positive outcomes of the Carinity Innovation Grants, which enabled 92 churches to deliver 137 community projects over the 14 years to 2019.

Anyone interested in volunteering for or donating food or clothing to the Neighbours Van can email [email protected] or phone (07) 3291 5900.