By Andrew Humphries
When COVID-19 made its presence felt in March, Rev (Deacon) Natalie Dixon-Monu knew major changes would be required if the Boroondara Community Outreach service was to continue its outstanding work providing aid to some of Melbourne’s most marginalised people.
Nine months later, co-ordinator Natalie and BCO’s dedicated team of volunteers can celebrate a job well done after official recognition of their outstanding work during the pandemic.
That recognition has come in the form of an award from the City of Boroondara in the Outstanding Innovative Program category.
And when Natalie outlines the level of service and support BCO was able to maintain during the pandemic, it’s easy to understand why the City of Boroondara was so impressed.
Natalie estimates BCO volunteers have cooked and distributed an amazing 23,000 meals since March to those doing it tough.
“A lot of people we support are incredibly vulnerable and when the situation developed around not being able to get food in supermarkets, many of them found it difficult to cope,” she says.
“So we quickly shifted gear and decided we would cook meals, so people would come here once a week and leave with enough healthy food to last them a week.”
None of this would have been possible without the volunteers, who went above and beyond to make sure people were properly looked after.
“We had one volunteer who is part of the Uniting Church from Manningham who cooked tuna mornay for the whole time and another one of our volunteers lost his job but asked what he could do to help us and he has also been cooking the whole time for us.
“It’s been so lovely to be able to provide really good home-cooked meals to people.”
It wasn’t just meals BCO provided, though, as the pandemic made many everyday items and services unobtainable for its participants.
“When a lot of the second-hand clothes shops closed, we were able to create our own second-hand clothes distribution point, while we were also able to provide showering facilities when they closed elsewhere in Boroondara,” Natalie says.
While the City of Boroondara recognition is most welcome, Natalie is even more pleased about the sense of community she saw develop during the worst of the pandemic.
“I think it gave a lot of our volunteers a sense of purpose during such a difficult time,” she says.
“Those receiving the meals say it has been an absolute lifesaver because the pandemic, particularly in its early days, was such a stressful time for them.
“The award is about the fact that we had hundreds of volunteers all doing their little piece in a jigsaw that came together to create a beautiful picture of community.
“It’s an award that celebrates the best of humanity in a time when the chips were down and the people of Boroondara supported those who were struggling.”
And while a sense of normality has returned in recent weeks, the wonderful work done by BCO continues.
Volunteers are about to put together 600 hampers so that BCO participants can have the best Christmas possible.