“THERE’S real worry and desperation out there.” Those were the words from the Melbourne call centre of the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria’s, better known as Vinnies Victoria, in the week before Christmas when our small team of volunteers answered an average of more than 350 calls a day from Victorians needing help.
But it was the number of callers who couldn’t get through to our operators — which tipped into the thousands in the past few months — that haunts every one of us.
Ours is a charity that for the past 165 years has worked tirelessly to address the injustices of homelessness and poverty. Our volunteers and employees know too well the additional pressures, stress and anxiety the holiday season presents to people living in hardship.
We know that for thousands of Victorian families the Christmas-New Year break doesn’t mean happiness but hunger, because almost half of the $18.4 million worth of assistance we provided in the past financial year was food-related.
People come to us in times of crisis. Often we are their last resort.
As the year wound down our volunteers busily packed thousands of hampers which they personally delivered to families across the state. Those hampers were filled with both perishable and nonperishable items designed to get families through one of the toughest times of the year.
Our volunteers go this extra step because they care. Really care. But at the end of the day this committed cohort are human and they, too, need a break.
Knowing many families who rely on us are having to count every dollar as they look ahead to 2020 is extremely hard to swallow, but our already stretched resources are at breaking point.
Vinnies Victoria receives less than one per cent government funding and our 97 per cent volunteer workforce does its best to respond compassionately to the personal and financial needs in the community — we help by providing vouchers for food and petrol and to pay for education costs, utility bills, furniture and medical expenses. Those needs grow year upon year.
Last financial year, for instance, we saw a 20 per cent rise in the value of material goods delivered to people in their homes and I have seen first-hand the incredible difference that has made to the lives of vulnerable people across the state.
Our volunteers, a number of them over the age of 60, give their time generously and without fanfare and will often go out of their way to deliver not only a hamper filled with special goodies but also hope for a better day.
We also couldn’t do all this without our incredible supporters the generous Victorians who have given more than $668,000 to our Vinnies Christmas Appeal so far.
Our Melbourne call centre volunteers will be back answering calls on January 7, but I’m urging every wonderful, caring Victorian to step in at this critical time and exemplify what we call “doing a Vinnies”, which simply means doing good.
Why not knock on a neighbour’s door to see if they’re okay, make a meal for someone who you suspect is struggling, pay for a stranger’s groceries, spend time with someone experiencing homelessness or pick up the phone and check in on a relative who lives alone?
Don’t make it just another New Year resolution; make it a lifelong resolution because charities, such as ours need everyone to give their resources (be it money, time, donations, anything) all year around.
Go on. Do a Vinnies. There is so much need out there, so why not do your bit to bring hope to our communities?
To donate, give or volunteer to Vinnies Victoria, please visit vinnies.org.au
Sue Cattermole is the CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria
This opinion piece appeared in The Herald Sun on January 2, 2020