Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers: the name kinda says it all…
A group of people cooking and preparing meals together to help feed the community, sharing their own stories and learning a few kitchen tricks and tips – as well as helping the environment and improving their own wellbeing and that of many others along the way.
Funded by Inner West Council in partnership with Addi Road, Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers is being steered each week by Tarek Taleb as its Project Manager and cooking mentor.
Every Wednesday afternoon around 2pm a group of volunteers gathers at our new kitchen inside Gumbramorra Hall to a prepare a meal for all those who attend our Wednesday Night Lights that evening.
Dedicated to the homeless and anyone in need of free medical help, Wednesday Night Lights kicked off very successfully last year as a partnership between Addi Road and Street Side Medics.
We’ve steadily expanded what’s on offer, sometimes working with Marrickville Legal Centre to also provide free legal advice when we can, and, more recently, The Feel Good Project who cut hair and do beauty treatments for free inside their space age silver van while the doctors and nurses of Street Side Medics examine people and offer treatment and advice.
If the weather stays good (sometimes tricky!) we set up long tables in the open and offer everyone free hot meals where they can sit down and relax. If it turns bad, we pull the tables under cover of the verandah and keep serving up the food. Conversation and good company, plus a playlist of greatest hits music that stretches from classic reggae to ‘Hotel California’ and other tunes selected by ‘DJ Grace’ Rabuatoka lights up the open-air, backyard party mood.
Sometimes The Fijian Community arrives with guitars in tow, playing everything from their traditional greeting songs to ‘No Woman, No Cry’ (Grace always seems to find that one amusing).
Back at the kitchen, before it all gets going, the volunteers for the Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers program are at work. They joke about how hard cutting carrots can be and the hassles of slicing onions in bulk (“thank god I wear glasses!”). You can sense the good humoured solidarity in it all.
Tarek explains that “the shared experience is really important. We’re lifting spirits here in the kitchen and afterwards when people gather and get to eat together and enjoy what we made. I guess the main thing we want to achieve is to inject some hope through we what we are doing.”
“My background is in engineering, so I am used to project managing,” he says. “I was involved with a project called ‘Refugees in Mind’ out at Villawood where we would visit, bring tea and biscuits, games, Uno cards, interactions and small things that just helped to remind people they are still human and not forgotten.”
The work led Tarek to what he calls “training in therapy modalities” with his friend and mentor Mohammed Taba. “It’s just one of the various community roles I’ve ended up playing in the Moslem community and more widely,” Tarek says.
It’s through this winding path of training and experience that Tarek found himself invited to help launch Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers for Addi Road and Inner West Council. He immediately understood the profound and broad impact of creating good, nutritional, hot meals for Wednesday Night Lights. How – from preparation to delivery to a community eating together – it was about so much more than just food, although that obviously mattered too.
“I’d like for the vision to expand. We use rescued and donated food for meals like a vegetable-and-lentil curry or a ‘hearty vegetable pasta bake’ – whatever works best with the produce. But I want to involve the volunteers and people at Addi Road who are connected to the community garden here too. So people learn about what they can grow in their own garden, how they can support themselves more at home, eat better, save money and help us too.”
“I can already see the skills sets growing among everyone here: the volunteers are learning, sharing their own recipes and seeing how to project manage too.”
“Yeah,” says one volunteer laughing, “I know how to cook – but you try doing it for 60 people each week. It’s a bit more nerve-wracking.”
On that note there is a sudden rush to a huge urn on the stove. “We better check how the rice is going!”
“Yeah,” says one volunteer laughing, “I know how to cook – but you try doing it for 60 people each week. It’s a bit more nerve-wracking. On that note there is a sudden rush to a huge urn on the stove. “We better check how the rice is going!”

Tarek Taleb, Project Manager, ‘Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers’. Photo by Mark Mordue.

Tarek is not worried. He has been watching the clock. “I’m not too strict, but I do like to run a well-oiled machine.” He smiles. “It’s my engingeering background. I like things that work well.”
He gets philosophical for a moment, reflecting on all the ingredients that go into Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers: the volunteers who come to forge a team; the exchange of conversation; the provision of meals for people battling; the energising of lives and community.
It can get hectic or challenging now and then, sure. “But if you have a sharp intention,” Tarek says, “it can pull you out of the dark every time.”
Time to put lids on the urns and pull the trays out of the oven. The volunteers will transport them in a trolley across the carpark to where a crowd has gathered. Wednesday Night Lights is beginning right out front of Addi Road Food Pantry and our main office at the community centre. People are looking keen to get a taste of dinner.
Tarek taps a last metal lid shut. It’s big, it’s deep, it’s simple: “Food security is a very important issue as inequality increases and people struggle. The Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers project is about empowering everyone involved. We feed a whole lot of people each week. We have a good time doing it. And the food has been a real hit!”