Rainbow Lunches: an adventure changing lives

UnitingCare West’s Rainbow Lunch celebrated its 20th anniversary this month. Around 100 past and present volunteers and friends gathered at Maylands Mt Lawley Uniting Church to mark the occasion.

Rainbow Lunches are a social group, set in churches, inviting people who are experiencing mental illness or loneliness to join them for lunch and a chance to connect with other people in the community.

Larissa Muir, Senior Project Officer NDIS Transition at UnitingCare West, said that Rainbow has quietly evolved over the past 20 years, beginning with a focus on befriending people living with mental illness and now expanding to other areas to include people in all sorts of situations, such as those who are vulnerable to homelessness, those who have exited prison, as well as people that have battled physical illness or are awaiting a transplant.

“It’s always had that focus on supporting individuals with their mental health and to tackle the issues of loneliness, which is so predominant in our community now – loneliness being a risk factor to mental health and other stress factors,” Larissa said.

“It’s evolved to support people that just want to connect with other people,” she said.

Volunteers and guests alike find Rainbow Lunch a welcoming opportunity to connect with the community on a deep level.

“It started off as being that there was nothing indifferent about who walks in the door,” Larissa said. “There’s a group of volunteers that set up the lunch but apart from that, everyone is equal. And that’s been kept constant for the past 20 years.

“That whole notion that we’re here to connect – we’re here to support each other – has stood really strong and I think that’s why it’s been able to last 20 years.

“People walk through the doors and they feel welcome, they don’t feel any judgement. There’s a lot of power in that.”

Recently, UnitingCare West has started gathering responses from guests, asking them why they come. Responses vary, with many appreciating the free lunch and others attributing the program to saving their lives.

At the 20th anniversary celebration, Jodie shared her experience as a friend of Rainbow Lunch. When she first began attending she suffered anxiety and needed a lift to get there. Now, she catches two buses on her own so that she can make it. It’s these steps that can create a huge impact in people’s lives.

Larissa said that the celebration event brought people together in an amazing way. There are even hopes to start an annual event.

“We wanted to celebrate the people that were part of it. For us it was about showcasing the abilities that everybody has within these lunches together,” Larissa said.

“The hall was filled with so much conversation, so much laughter and reminiscing of memories as well which was really lovely.

“Hearing them interact with each other; it gave people that sense of being part of something bigger than just ‘their’ lunch.”

Currently, Rainbow Lunches are operating in Duncraig, Maylands, Wembley Downs, Claremont, Mandurah and Como. St Andrew’s Uniting Church will be opening a new Rainbow in their recently dedicated building in East Perth.

Anyone is welcome to attend.

“At the moment within our communities we’ve got so much change going on, especially with NDIS coming through and people losing funding.

“As a community we have the ability to be able to soften the blow, not just for people who are having to go through the NDIS process, but also for people who are newly struggling with loneliness or isolation. It’s really important to reach out.

“If they feel comfortable, just dive in and do it. You don’t know who you might connect with and what that connection that might lead to. It’s quite an adventure.”

For more information about Rainbow and to find a Rainbow Lunch near you, contact Larissa at larissa.muir@unitingcarewest.org.au or call UnitingCare West on 1300 663 298.

Heather Dowling

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