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Coping with COVID-19: Natalie Dixon-Monu

As part of our on-going series, we speak with Rev Natalie Dixon-Monu, coordinator at BCO 

What is BCO and how long has it been going for?

Boroondara Community Outreach is a mental health ministry of the Presbytery of Yarra Yarra, that has been running for 27 years. It supports people who are socially isolated or living with a mental illness to live with dignity and engage in community. The ministry offers an inclusive and welcoming community for those looking for a place to belong and to contribute. We are about creating a community of hospitality with people, a safe place where each person is valued as a member who contributes to creating the community that is BCO. We value compassion and respect, nurture hope and encourage creativity. Our hope is that when people feel they belong and are supported, their health and well-being will improve on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social.

How long have you been involved?

Seven and a half years.

How has BCO’s work been affected by the COVID-19 crisis?

We usually run a variety of community meals and activities throughout the week. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we had to close, as did a lot of other places that offered emergency relief. This left people even more isolated and, combined with the shortages at the supermarket, their access to food was severely disrupted and restricted. 

How have you responded?

We have been focusing on cooking and freezing nutritious meals for vulnerable people in our community. We have also found many other people in our broader community are now needing assistance due loss of income, being asylum seekers or elderly. To date, we have provided nearly 5000 meals and, in addition to these non-perishables, fresh vegetables and fruit. We have also been in regular contact providing support over the phone.

How has this been received?

We have had a fantastic response from people within the church, our volunteers and the broader community. They are donating fresh fruit and veggies, non-perishables, cooking muffins/slices/biscuits and donating money to help us buy more goods. A few examples are the four YMCA sites in Boroondara that donated all their café goods (26 crates), Toscano’s fruit shop donates weekly and lets us buy fruit at cost, Trinity Grammar donates vegetables each week.

Are there any other examples?

Mark is the manager at the Kew Baptist Uni Residence that is opposite BCO. He had to send all the students home and was left with food in the kitchen, so he called Ben Perkins, a previous tenant who was trained as a chef, to see if he could come and cook it up. Ben had lost his job during the pandemic, but came and cooked and, through another connection, they found out BCO was handing out meals. When he heard what we were doing, he offered to continue to cook for us using the Kew Res Kitchen. He has been working full-time for us.

How many people have you helped?

To date we have assisted 201 people with food and emergency relief goods. We have become a base for 16 rough sleepers who come and get a hot feed and recharge their mobiles each day.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I received this note from Stephen, a rough sleeper, the other day:

“Food is life. Good food is a good life.

“At the beginning of the Coronavirus disaster in early March 2020, I was evicted from my public housing unit in North Melbourne (my fault) and found myself wandering the streets of Melbourne homeless and penniless.

“A month later I found myself in Kew, a new suburb for me, a new beginning.

“The Salvos had found me a motel room there. What I needed now to regain my poise, clean clothes and good food. One day with my worldly possessions in a bag on my shoulder, I happened across Natalie’s food outreach station. “Please” I said, “I’m between homes. Can I get a meal?” “Of course,” the Reverend said, heating up for me in a plastic container. I was expecting the usual charity slop. How stupid could I be? Taking it down to the park, I wolfed it down. It was delicious!

I was human again.

“Clean clothes and good food; what more does a person need?”

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