By ALLISON HORE
The extreme weather hitting NSW has led to severe damage, flooding and disruptions across Sydney this weekend. But two Newtown businesses have come together to make the best of the bad situation and help out those in need.
Heavy rainfall on Friday caused “catastrophic electrical failure” at Lloyd’s IGA in Newtown, meaning the store’s registers could not be operated as usual and the store had to close.
Some of the store’s perishable foods were sent off to be sold at another IGA. But not knowing what to do with the rest, and not wanting it to go to waste, the store’s owner donated dozens of trays of sausages and meat to their neighbours at the Italian Bowl.
The donated ingredients couldn’t be used by the Italian Bowl, so chefs from the restaurant cooked it up to be taken to the homeless in the Inner West and Sydney’s CBD. Restaurant co-owner, Jenny Spyridis, said the idea to make meals for the homeless with the donated ingredients was her husband’s.
“We couldn’t use that stuff that was given to us for our purpose, but it clicked and he thought we should do a homeless run because we already do that once a month with Ricky from the SWAG Family,” she explained.
“It was kind of spur of the moment and we were like, snap, let’s do this.”
The 100 Italian rice and sausage meals cooked up by the restaurant were distributed by the SWAG Family Sydney, a community group which provides free food, services and support to rough sleepers in Sydney’s CBD.
As the group doesn’t receive government or council funding, a choice they say gives them more freedom to distribute meals and assistance without strings attached, they rely on the generosity of individual donors, volunteers and local businesses.
Rick Herrera, founder of the SWAG Family Sydney, told the Inner West Independent the Italian Bowl has been helping them out and preparing meals for the past year and a half. He said the help they have provided is “unbelievable.”
“Over winter they gave up so much time, they were donating meals on a weekly basis for about six months,” he said.
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable. We gave out about 86,000 meals in 140 days, about 10,000 came from the Italian Bowl.”
Mr. Herrera said weather events like this are particularly hard for rough sleepers, not just because of the practicalities of trying to find a dry place to sleep during a downpour, but also because a lot of the organisations who usually help are unable to get out onto the streets.
“This is the worst time for rough sleepers, this is the time where [groups that help them] just sort of bail, because they realise they can’t get out there, it’s just too hard,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a challenge, the weather was bad, but the whole COVID period has been bad. All of the bigger charities stopped coming out completely.”
The small SWAG Family team works a 40 hour week, alongside their day jobs, to get meals to people on the streets. They say the support of local businesses makes this work possible. For Ms. Spyridis, the spur of the moment cook up was just one example of the “Newtown spirit” and how local businesses have come together to help those in need.
“We’ve got many acquaintances with everybody there in Newtown and they’re all different people and they’re all fun, but when a crisis happens they all come together,” she said.
“I was even moved when I saw a lot of people feel sorry for IGA when they had to close, not for their own purpose, but because they knew one day not trading, two, three or four days is huge… so there was an outpouring of community support.”