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How can we help our community to stay strong?

THIS COVID pandemic is having a profound effect on all of us, but some more than others. I tried to take a closer look at what is lying under the surface and how this community is coping in this pandemic.

I caught up with Hamilton Uniting Church (U.C) and St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria (Vinnies Victoria) representatives to find out how our local area is coping.

What services does the Uniting Church provide in the broader Hamilton region?
The food delivery service has operated mainly in Hamilton, but to a limited extent to Penshurst, Coleraine and Casterton.
Approximately 120 families and individuals receive a box of food items (fruit, veg, milk, meat, packaged groceries, bakery products, frozen prepared meals etc. depending on what we receive from Supermarkets) once a week.
Free hot meals. This is a sit-down meal offered at our Church fellowship centre every Tuesday at 12 noon, which usually includes meat and three vegies, followed by dessert. During every lockdown, sit down meals cannot be hosted, therefore, meals prepared by volunteers have been frozen and stored. These are given away from the front door as a ‘frozen meal’ with a Safe Food Handling note attached.
Supply two primary schools with fresh fruit every week.
Provide support to the needy by way of food and fuel vouchers when referred to from outreach agencies.
Delivery of leftover food from generous cafes and take away Hamilton businesses which are then distributed to the needy in the Hamilton community.
The Argyle is our second-hand good store which receives donations of household goods and sells goods and at times, responds to urgent needs by donating goods.

What services does the St Vincent de Paul Society provide in the broader Hamilton region?
In the Hamilton area, Vinnies Victoria offers assistance of non-perishable foods and food vouchers, and we assist with some arrear’s accounts. Vinnies Victoria has spent more than $250,000 in the Hamilton area in the last five years assisting people with accommodation, food, transport fees and fuel, white goods and furniture, education costs, medicines, and utility bills. We also recently held a winter appeal through our parish community and, as always, they responded very generously.

Has there been an increase in the numbers requiring support? Is there more unemployment from the pandemic here?
U.C. - Surprisingly, we have not had much increase in demand. We have had some new ones, but this has been balanced by people moving away, or circumstances having changed.
This differs from week to week, in that the trend goes from high demand then drops off significantly. But the trend is on the rise. Vinnies Victoria - Demand for Vinnies’ welfare services in the community has been gradually returning to pre-COVID levels since the phased withdrawal of the government’s coronavirus supplements. Across the state, demand for some services decreased during COVID but increased for others.One of our local volunteers, Pauline, says, “we know that people in the local area, particularly in the casual workforce of the hospitality and café sector, have been impacted by the pandemic”.
“We want to let people know that if they are struggling to provide their families with enough food or need help with bills, Vinnies is here to help and please call us.
“A lot of people think that they have to be really desperate before calling us but that’s not true. Or they feel ashamed about asking for help, but we want people to know that there is no shame attached to calling us. We are all in the same boat dealing with the impact of this pandemic, and at Vinnies we have no judgment about people’s circumstances or how they got there.
“Some people leave it a long time to get assistance and then they end up really far behind in bills, which can have a big impact on their lives and mental health. I think a lot of people thought that the pandemic would be over sooner and they would be back at work. But that hasn’t happened for many people, so they’ve ended up in dire straits.”

What are some of the stories that you are hearing?
U.C. - Some larger families (four, five, or six children) are really struggling now and require large supplies. Most people are very grateful for our deliveries.
I don’t think the people that we deliver to have been affected as much as people who have lost jobs, income etc.
One family is struggling as the painting & decorating business they own cannot function due to COVID restrictions.
Vinnies Victoria - We paid the first instalment of someone’s council rates last year who said that he had not been out of work for 39 years. He found having to come to see us overwhelming, but we made sure that he soon felt comfortable.

Are your resources stretched and how can people help out? Are you needing more volunteers?
U.C. - We are fortunate in having great support from local supermarkets including Woolworths, Aldi (who donated a total of 13 tonnes last calendar year!) and most Hamilton cafes donating left-over food from the day before.
We also receive a large supply (500-700 kilograms) fortnightly from the Warrnambool Food Bank.
Many people drop in fruit, vegetables from their gardens, and monetary donations.
We have a wonderful team of volunteers who help with packing and deliveries. If we need more volunteers, we have a number of reserves.
Throughout this pandemic, Second Bite have managed very well with their dedicated teams of volunteers.
However, our second-hand furniture store (The Argyle) is struggling to get volunteers.
We are also looking for new volunteer teams for our Tuesday meals program.
With each lockdown causing café trade to be restricted, this has reduced what is usually donated. Hence, we need to delve into donated funds to purchase foodstuffs to maintain our service.
Vinnies Victoria - Vinnies is always keen to have more volunteers join us. If you are interested in supporting people in the community who are in need, call us to have a chat about how you can get started.

This COVID pandemic has been quite overwhelming for some – there seems to be increased anxiety in the community – have you found this?
U.C. - The café owners have displayed frustration due to off/on lockdowns as this causes disruption to peoples’ buying habits and it’s hard to get customers to return, as they once did. The Uniting Church can be contacted at 113 Lonsdale St, Hamilton or by phone on 5571 2618.

Vinnies Victoria – We sense that many people are under pressure and emotional stress due to the impact of COVID and Vinnies is always here to help and offer support. Drop into our Assistance Centre at 11 Clarendon Street, Hamilton for a chat. Our volunteers are there Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 2-3pm, although we never close the doors if people are waiting to see us. Or call us on 5571 9859.
There are a number of issues that have come to the fore during this pandemic, like social isolation, unemployment, anxiety about what the future might look like – it will give us all a fresh look at what’s really important in our lives. Just please be aware that some people are really struggling, and if there is something that you can do to help one of our support networks, then I am sure they would be very grateful. If you need assistance then please put your hand up sooner, rather than letting things spiral out of control.

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