17
Oct
13

Volunteering for OzHarvest and the Newtown Mission

My employer, CA Technologies, gives us employees up to 3 non-consecutive paid days off each year to volunteer in the community. Back in May I took a day off to assist crisis help line Lifeline by lifting tons of books in preparation for a fundraising book fair. Yesterday I and several of my colleagues had another day away from our desks helping OzHarvest and the Newtown Mission.

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OzHarvest Food Rescue addresses the fact that our society throws away a lot of perfectly good food. At the end of each day restaurants throw away mountains of it that they either feel they can’t use or that customers wouldn’t accept. Grocery chains reject produce that isn’t “shaped right”. OzHarvest estimate that 20% of food that’s sold in Australia ends up being thrown into a landfill, uneaten. So they drive around to as many places as they can with their fleet of vans, pick up what’s perfectly usable, and distribute it to one of the hundreds of charities in Australia that can use it. In Sydney alone they have 11 vans, 900 companies acting as food donors, and over 240 agencies that take the food, resulting in roughly 13,300 needy people receiving free meals every day.

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The Newtown Mission is a Uniting Church congregation in Sydney’s Newtown, a place known for its edgy culture and colourful street life. This Christian group used to run a soup kitchen but decided that sounded too downbeat, and have jazzed it up into a lunchtime café that runs four days a week. Using food from OzHarvest and volunteers to prepare and serve food they serve lunch to 70-100 people each day. The regular volunteers who run this are amazing, tireless people.

Yesterday we joined those volunteers. We arrived mid-morning and chopped fruit, made salads, got tables ready, packed goodie bags, set up the café, made sandwiches, and even peeled bags of potatoes for the next day’s meal. Then we served that food to about 80 people who came through.

There are a wide variety of people who come to get a free lunch. Some obviously have addiction problems; some are obviously recent immigrants who are struggling financially. Some have mental health problems. Some people clearly got as much benefit from the social interaction with the Mission volunteers and each other as from the food. Only one person got a bit out of control, and the regular volunteers said that’s rare. Everyone who came through the serving line was happy to chat with me.

We all took turns eating some of the food we’d prepared and sat with the rest of those there for lunch. I met some really interesting folks at my table, two Aussies, one guy who grew up in West Berlin, and another from Wisconsin, USA. Everyone had a very different story but everyone was really appreciative of the service that OzHarvest and the mission were providing, and impressed that the company I worked for would let us come and volunteer.

The scale of food waste in our modern society is staggering. The number of people, even in a society as wealthy as Australia’s, who need help to get a decent meal is significant. OzHarvest and the Newtown Mission are doing things to address both of these situations and they’re doing them together. Each deserves my ongoing help, and yours too.

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1 Response to “Volunteering for OzHarvest and the Newtown Mission”


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