‘It’s easier to care than to turn away’ is the motto of Carevan Wagga Inc and its incredible team of volunteers.
“People need to feel connected, valued and included, to be respected and given a sense of dignity and worth – and sharing a meal is a great way to do this,” explains Volunteer Project Manager Lynne Graham. “Before COVID hit, our pop-up meal venues – three nights a week at six locations around the city – was where we showed our guests love and respect, care and acceptance. The friendly atmosphere meant people could dine with dignity and share conversations.”
The service was a real community effort: students at local high schools helped by prepping the meals using Carevan supplied ingredients.
“The Carevan has become an icon in our city,” says Lynne. “It is a symbol that the community cares; that a community, through a strong volunteer network, can work together to ensure all people feel valued and respected regardless of their circumstances.”
Feeding a family: Angelo’s story
43-year-old Angelo and his partner live in Wagga Wagga with their six children, who range in age from 11 months to 11 years. The couple’s oldest child is severely autistic and attends a special school. Childhood trauma contributed to Angelo’s poor mental health – he is bipolar, has experienced PTSD, and has a history of substance abuse, though he is proudly ‘clean and serene’ today. His is just one family who has relied on Carevan.
“We took a major financial and mental blow when my partner’s car was broken into and set on fire on our front lawn last December,” says Angelo. “Carevan helped us so much with meals as well as the social aspect – the volunteers were so friendly and supportive at a time when we were destitute.
“Carevan has helped myself and my family in so many ways, we are treated as people and not as a number, we are welcomed with big smiles and open arms. The food fills the family up, not to mention it is always delicious, well done and prepared to restaurant quality and presentation.
“Another important part of using this service is that it has shown our children that it’s okay to ask for help when needed. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are less than human and if it helps, it helps.”
James – or ‘Big Jim’ as he’s known to the volunteers – is another Wagga local who has been helped by Carevan. The regular meals are just a small part of what he relies on. There’s also “meeting new people, friendship, conversation, the pleasant atmosphere when joining guests for meals, and the welcoming and friendly volunteers”. It’s clear that Carevan helps strengthen Big Jim’s connection to his community.
How COVID-19 changed Carevan’s offering
COVID-19 restrictions saw Carevan pivot to a model where meals are pre-prepared at its combined warehouse/kitchen then frozen. Other local charities collect then distribute the frozen meals to those in need across Wagga Wagga.
The organisation received a Sisters of Charity Foundation Community Grant to cover the warehouse’s electricity, communications and insurance costs for 2021.
“At the outbreak of COVID-19, Wagga Wagga City Council was particularly concerned that the number of disadvantaged people in the city needing assistance with food, warm bedding and clothing would rise dramatically,” relates Mayor Greg Conkey OAM. “I called together all the welfare agencies, including Carevan, to see what could be done to address this situation… Carevan became the lead agency and continues to play a pivotal role. I hate to think what would have happened if Carevan did not step up.
“COVID-19 has seen the number of meals prepared by Carevan increase dramatically with teams of volunteers cooking up to 190 meals daily, three days a week from Carevan’s premises.”
Carevan’s volunteers and regular clients are looking forward to the pop-up meals service resuming when restrictions are relaxed and it is safe to do so. Fingers crossed it won’t be long now!
About the Community Grants Program
Twice every year the Sisters of Charity Foundation provides grants of up to $15,000 to a wide range of incredible community projects. Unfortunately, there are always more worthy projects than we are able to fund – that’s why in 2020 we were inspired to bring on a corporate partner to fund an additional two grants.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation and Carevan Wagga Inc would like to express their deepest gratitude to EISS Super for covering Carevan’s electricity, communications and insurance costs in 2021.
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