Matthew is a volunteer here at Addi Road’s Food Relief Hub. He’s been working with us now for a year and a half, right from when “the whole COVID thing” first started to have an impact on Sydney back in March 2020. He takes a generous view of why he has kept returning and volunteering with us up to the present day.
“Well, you guys helped me when I was feeling down. Don’t forget that. Coming here is not just a duty for the volunteers. There are people who are here for their minds as well, you know,” he says, touching the side of his head for emphasis. “It feels good to communicate and work together. To be a part of it all together.”
Even so, Matthew admits “things are definitely getting more intensive and more focussed. Just the sheer volume of what we are packing. The fruit and vegetables we have to sort. It’s really gone up over last three weeks; you can feel it and you can see it.”
Then he laughs and says, “But the atmosphere is still pretty relaxed … we talk, we play music. We go even faster.”
Matthew suddenly gets on a riff about the discipline of wearing masks and being careful for the sake of yourself and others, wherever you are. “Hey, what do you call a man without a mask?” he asks. There’s a long, uncertain pause before he answers himself. “Mr 500!”
The joke flies over everyone’s heads. “Don’t you get it? Because it is a $500 fine for not wearing a mask when you should.”
He rattles out a string of ‘500’ jokes that are all variations on this first one. For some reason, he has got people laughing with him. Matthew often tells jokes like these.
If we want to take a picture, he says he’s happy to stand beside pallets of food hampers that he’s helped pack and then stack. They are only some of the hundreds of hampers that are going out today from Addi Road, thanks to all the charity and civil society groups distributing them, and our team of volunteer drivers.
And, of course, thanks to people like Matthew volunteering inside our Food Relief Hub.
“Just call me Masked Matt when you write this story,” he says. “That’s me. Masked Matt to the rescue!”
Addi Road has more than enough wonderful volunteers at the moment. So many we can’t quite manage all the enquiries we are getting! But if you’d really like to help us, it would be great if you shared our social media and website posts. You can also donate directly to our food relief work here: www.AddiRoad.org.au
Songs in the Key of Life
At another end of the day, there is only a trace of the last bird call to see us into the evening. This place is home to a lot of people, and a backstop to many more.
Right now, Addi Road is serving as a linchpin between the larger food relief organisations and a plethora of civil society groups, charity and community organisations. All of us making sure people across the inner west, the city, the east and the southwest of Sydney have food on their table tonight.
We’re running 30 shifts a week, morning and afternoon, with over 260 volunteers giving their best to help pack food hamper boxes. Each one inspiring the other. A few of them say how much they love the work, how they feel less isolated, how their powerlessness has turned into something here that makes them stronger.
Along with all the charities and community groups, including many that have arisen like wildflowers to help the people they know, are our own team of volunteer drivers – packing their cars and heading off into the day to make contactless deliveries.
A few staff and volunteers are taking up to 300 phone calls a day, noting down the addresses and reassuring people that food is on the way. They hear all the stories. Some days they cry, with and for the people they talk to. Then they make sure the food gets delivered during the lockdown, a time when people can feel frightened, alone, without work, without money.
Back over at our hall, converted into a Food Relief Hub, the team at work hums on, packing and putting hamper boxes on to pallets each morning … the police are here from Burwood picking up boxes to help those they visit…. Deadly Connections have backed up a van to feed Indigenous families in the inner west… Lighthouse Community Support has a van here too to get food out to the southwest where the lockdown is felt hardest…
More cars, more vans. A few thousand hampers this week, moving out and all over.
We try to listen to what these different and very active groups tell us about what kind of food is needed, what is culturally appropriate, and what is going on in the hearts and minds of everyone. Not just the details, but how it really feels and what we might do better.
Eight weeks into the lockdown – and a while yet to go. But we’re adapting to the changing virus and changing needs, and getting better at what we do after a solid year of this food relief work since the pandemic first began affecting our community.
It’s time to go home and eat and rest ourselves. Everyone will be back here, bright and early tomorrow, making the place sing in answer to the call of the city….
Reading and Happiness
Victoria posing with The Hollow Tree. Photo: Supplied.
Victoria chose Addi Road’s children’s book The Hollow Tree for her book parade today. Like many children, Victoria had to celebrate her school event online. But this was a day she and her friends really put their hearts and souls and imaginations into. Her mother Dulce told us that “she chose The Hollow Tree because she loves to imagine the secret worlds of animals – the worlds that no one notices – and the understanding that nothing really dies. Even a hollow tree without leaves or branches is full with life.”
The Hollow Tree was created here at Addi Road. It’s a beautiful story to read to your children, or as a gift to those of primary school age.