Bernardo Tobias, OzHarvest Victoria State Manager, and his team have had an extremely busy 14 weeks. He explains the community spirit he witnessed and the round-the-clock team work involved in getting good food to those in desperate need in Melbourne during the COVID-19 crisis.
Fourteen weeks ago we received funding from the Department of Social Services to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Immediately, I planted the seed for a project aiming to feed 7,500 Victorian households for 12 weeks with nutritious, locally sourced seasonal food, encouraging people to break bread and have their needs met, in addition to continuing OzHarvest’s usual food rescue operations. Like everywhere in the country, we redeployed family members into new roles totally out of their comfort zones, doing things that have never been done before, in order to meet the rising demand, which was nothing short of immense.
In two short weeks, the remodelled team in Melbourne adapted, collaborated, and stepped up in a thrilling and proactive manner. Sourcing branded, environmentally friendly boxes we filled them with good healthy food that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Along with nutritionally based family meal recipe cards and in-depth surveys to measure long and short-term impacts and demand, the team worked together to create an entirely new approach to logistical challenges and systems for data collection that allowed us to measure and report live on every aspect of the program.
Throughout the next 10 weeks, we continuously refined and improved our service. The initial target of 7,500 households was met and surpassed by week seven. By week nine we had fed 11,860 households in areas of high need in Victoria. And then COVID-19 reared its ugly head once again in our state.
Friday 3 July saw the implementation of the hardest lockdowns seen in the country, aimed at an already vulnerable cohort in the community: nine housing commission towers went into full lockdown, surrounded by police, with residents unable to leave their homes for any reason. 3,000 people stranded. By Monday, the news was doom and gloom and we had to do something.
We reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services, State and Federal politicians, community organisations, the private sector and everyone in between to understand what was happening on the ground. It was dire. People were scrambling to help, food was getting delivered to the sites without notice or systems, police and government staff and volunteers were doing the best they could to get food up to 780 apartments in limited lifts, with residents receiving expired foods, cereal without milk, bread without spread, spread without bread, culturally inappropriate food – it was chaos.
By 10am Monday morning we had a plan to help. We purchased extra food, we called on friends, families, volunteers, and all staff for help. By Tuesday 7:30am our warehouse was full of people in yellow, with their sleeves rolled up opening boxes, printing halal fact sheets, moving pallets up and down, drafting packing lists and all with appropriate physical distancing of course! We knew it was going to be a long, hard couple of days. And it was.
We packed boxes for over 14 hours straight on Tuesday, packing a total of 1,600 boxes with 21,600kgs of food for both tower residents and our regular Essential Boxes recipients. By 9pm that night, every vehicle in our fleet was loaded to capacity with boxes to be delivered first thing Wednesday morning. We know that we continue to make a significant difference and all of our efforts go to nourishing our country.
Over the past 14 weeks we have delivered 14,437 Food Essential Boxes. That’s 191,267kg of nutritious food, or 555,265 meals, to Victorians doing it tough as result of the crisis, in addition to our daily food rescue and relief deliveries.
This crisis has created a new norm. It has highlighted the importance of our service but most importantly, it provided a platform for our community and family members to shine. The passion and commitment of each one of us has been (and will continue to be) tested and I could not be prouder of my team and every one of our yellow family across the country. We will continue Nourishing our Country, through this pandemic and beyond.