Faith inspires op shop ministry

Judy Huddleston in The Mustard Tree. Photo Matthew Shaw.
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A Lilydale woman runs a Baptist Church op shop to care for people in need. Matthew Shaw reports.

An outer east suburban woman driven by her faith manages an op shop and food bank as a form of ministry for the community.

Judy Huddleston, 55, has been working at The Mustard Tree in Lilydale for the past 10 years, as a volunteer before being employed as the manager.

The Mustard Tree is an op shop, food bank and cafe for the past 30 years that is the “community care of Lilydale Baptist Church”, she said.

Named after a Biblical parable in which the Kingdom of God is likened to a grain of mustard seed, it aims to “provide items at op shop prices… affordable op shop prices,” says Ms Huddleston.

As well as providing a café for community and a meeting place for disabled groups.

Ms Huddleston says that her faith is a main reason for why she manages the op shop as well as “to be able to help people in the community”.

“We also want to use funds raised from sales in the op shop… to support other organizations and breakfast programs in the community,” she said.

Ms Huddleston is the “manager of the op shop and whole organization,” which includes seven staff and over 130 volunteers. 

“We have a ministry within The Mustard Tree… the people we’re working with… some come in everyday,” she said.

Vera Miljkovich has been a volunteer since 2010, “I love it here. It’s my refugee, my safe place. I suffer from depression. It’s my savior here,” she said.

 
The Mustard Tree floor and café. Photo Matthew Shaw.

Miljkovich said Ms Huddleston was “she’s easy to work with, easy to approach … We have a laugh all the time.”

The food bank, arguably the largest aspect of the community outreach, serves as emergency food relief, providing three meals a day for three days to those who register.   

The food bank has grown over the years, initially the handing out of a couple food vouchers a month, to in 2018, giving out enough food for over 30,000 meals, Ms Huddleston said.

The food itself is made up of donations, from churches and organizations, and purchased using “money allocated each month in our budget to buy food that hasn’t been supplied,” she said.

The potential recipients ring up or come into the op shop and make an appointment and are interviewed.

The interviewer gets their details and finds out what food they would like out of a standard list, that the bank tries to always stock. They then get a free coffee while their food parcel is made up.