A renewed interest in helping someone in need is the silver lining of COVID-19 and for charities giving food to the needy, it’s more important than ever.
This week is National Volunteer Week, so we decided to check in with a few of the organisations helping those doing it tough to chat about the volunteers they work with and how they’ve made a difference during these challenging times.
The theme of this year’s National Volunteer Week, from May 18-24, is Changing Communities. Changing Lives.
It’s the perfect motto for the uncertain times we live in and how each of us can make a difference to those around us.
Volunteers are the backbone of Encircle, according to chief executive officer Patrick Bulman, and the organisation would not be able to help vulnerable members of our community without them.
“They often do take on work that is a paid role in other organisations. We’ve had volunteers who have been with us for over 20 years. Across the five sites, we have in excess of 300 volunteers and some have been with us since the early days,” Patrick says.
Encircle has five sites, four in the Moreton Bay Region, and provides programs and services for the community. These include a legal service, housing assistance, counselling and family therapy, family support, financial advice and assistance and a young parents program.
“With our volunteers, we make them feel a part of the family. They’re acknowledged, appreciated and treated like staff members,” Patrick says.
“With the Care Army we’ve seen, particularly at Redcliffe, some really good people who have retired and want to give back to the community.”
They’ve also had backpackers and others looking for structure in their lives who have been volunteering to help put together emergency relief food parcels.
“They really enjoy being part of that process. It’s also been good for their confidence and self-esteem to give back to the local community,” Patrick says.
“We could not run without our volunteer base. Many come from all walks of life – business, construction, administration. We’re able to tap into their skills and the wisdom they bring to the table.
“We’re immensely proud of our volunteers, particularly this week when we would normally have a presentation day.”
But with COVID-19 restrictions still in place, they’ve had to be creative this year.
At Lawnton, they’ve made cupcakes for their volunteers which will be collected by those able to get to the centre on Friday.
“For those who can’t come into the site, we will deliver their cupcakes to their homes. It’s a small gesture, but it’s to let them know they’re very much in our thoughts,” Patrick explains.
He says the shutdown has prompted greater collaboration between different services to ensure assistance is available to those in need.
Encircle is providing 40-70 food hampers each day using goods provided by Oz Harvest and local businesses.
The Free Mason Lodge at Scarborough will deliver $1200 worth of food to Encircle on May 20 to be distributed to those in need. Encircle also received $300 worth of groceries from PC Skills Unlimited recently.
“There’s been lots of community support, which has been marvellous to see,” Patrick says.
“Seeing the community come together in difficult times like this gives us hope for the future that people, even with their own circumstances, are prepared to give back.”
For more information about Encircle, visit the website.
Manager Carmel Riethmuller says connections with volunteers from community groups across the region are vital in being able to answer calls for help.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more, but different kinds of requests for assistance from people who haven’t been in contact with the organisation before.
“We’ve been working with workers on visas because they’re not entitled to any government payments. A lot are young workers, with young families, and it’s the first time they’ve ever had to reach out for help,” Carmel explains.
Chameleon Housing has been making up hampers for these people and others not receiving Job Seeker or Job Keeper payments. In addition to this, they’ve been working with other organisations such as Brothers in Need at Logan, which supplied 100 meals to homeless people on the Redcliffe Peninsula.
“Our focus has been supporting those not receiving Job Seeker or Job Keeper payments. That’s where we feel we’ve been able to really contribute at this time,” Carmel says.
They’ve been able to offer assistance thanks to a large group of supporters who volunteer with a range of community groups.
Youth Justice Moreton Bay volunteers have been cooking and baking, preparing meals for those involved in the young families program and for young people staying in their shelter.
The Monday Quilters, led by Joy Godfrey, have made quilts distributed with hampers, as well as others for young people at the youth shelter and cot quilts for babies of young mothers.
Carmel says Padres Junior Baseball Club volunteers provide ongoing support but also donated a table tennis table for young people at the shelter to use in isolation, so they wouldn’t get bored.
They’ve also received care packs thanks to the Rotary Club Kippa-Ring North Lakes and Rotary Sunrise.
“It’s things like this that keep coming towards us. It’s just lovely,” Carmel says.
“I’d like to say to them that during these times their support has been invaluable, but it’s also kept us motivated. It keeps us going forward, we feel encouraged and we feel supported. We’re not alone, we’re all in this together. I feel I can reach out and I appreciate it.”
For more information about Chameleon Housing, head to their website
It’s a small, but dedicated team of volunteers who makes sure there are food hampers available to people who need them at Kallangur every Thursday morning.
Hand in Hand Community Project Moreton president Nelli Waldron says there’s just five or six volunteers who sort produce and grocery items provided by Oz Harvest and SecondBite, buy additional items and make up the hampers each Wednesday.
A volunteer will then take one person at a time through the CWA hall to get what they need each Thursday morning. It’s time-consuming, but important work.
At the moment, they’re handing out 50-70 hampers every Thursday.
“There’s no way we would be able to do it without them, there’s no way. Without our dedicated team of volunteers, it would be impossible to get done,” Nelli says.
Hampers are available from 10am-noon every Thursday from the CWA Hall, Anzac Avenue, Kallangur.
For more information and updates, head to their Facebook page.
The Breakfast Club of Redcliffe has a core group of volunteers who have worked tirelessly during the COVID-19 shutdown to ensure the needy didn’t go hungry.
The group has about 80 volunteers on its books, but many who are older or in high-risk categories had to pull back from their usual duties.
That left about 20 people to keep things going for the past six weeks or so.
Chairperson Michelle Gilchrist says COVID-19 restrictions have meant they could no longer offer breakfast or dine-in meals, but they continued afternoon meals.
“We’ve perfected the art of takeaway because we couldn’t allow people to sit down (and eat there),” she says.
The team has also been putting together food parcels using fresh produce provided by Oz Harvest. At the moment they are giving about 80 food parcels a week to those who need them.
They are also providing frozen meals to those with access to fridges and reheating facilities, and many of these meals have been made by volunteers stuck at home.
Michelle says food support is in demand.
“People are really struggling. They may have enough income to pay rent if they’re lucky. It’s other things, like food they can’t pay for,” she says.
There’s also travellers who can get home yet and those on visas, who don’t qualify for any form of government assistance.
For Michelle, the enormous contribution her volunteers make is difficult to put into words.
“The dedication of these people … without that volunteer component, we would have closed our doors completely. They’re the heart of our group. A lot of people wouldn’t have had our support during that time, without them,” she says.