Beatrice Gray, the coordinator of the Ballina Hot Meal Centre Inc said yesterday she was ‘over the moon’ that the Centre was up and running again thanks to a generous donation from Cherry Street Sports Club.
Cook Sarah Gent said, ‘It’s lovely to be back, we’re absolutely delighted.’
The new sponsorship came after an Echonetdaily story about the plight of the Centre, which was unable to continue operating after the St Francis Xavier Catholic Parish was forced to withdraw its support for this vital community service.
For over twenty years, the Hot Meal Centre has provided up to 300 meals twice a week for homeless and disadvantaged people, including many hot and frozen takeaways, operating out of the Ballina Masonic Centre in Cherry Street, but for months the doors have been closed.
Yesterday the Cherry Street Sports Club pledged one year’s support, with a plan for three years.
Col Lee, a champion of the Centre, thanked the board of the club and General Manager Tere Sheehan at a celebratory gathering for volunteers. ‘We’re just so thrilled that you could support this wonderful organisation,’ he said.
Cherry Street Sports Club steps up
In an emotional speech, Mr Sheehan said, ‘Whenever I see anything that Col’s attached to, I always pay attention. This guy puts his heart and soul into the community.’
He said the COVID-19 period had been ‘a tough ride’ for the club, ‘but this is stuff we’ve always done before COVID, and we really wanted to continue to do.
‘Our purpose as long as I’ve been there is to ensure that the community we live in gets benefit from our profits, and this is the second significant donation we’ve done under the Club Grants Scheme,’ he said.
‘Last year we helped the Children’s Hospital with some lifesaving equipment, and this year and the next three years we’ll be doing this.’
Mr Sheehan said the volunteers are the real heroes. ‘It’s easy for us to throw money around to help our community, but money is not everything. It’s the volunteers that keep things running. Our club wouldn’t exist without volunteers.
‘On behalf of our board of directors, myself, my entire team, I’d like to wholeheartedly thank you very much for what you do for our community, and we’ll be on board hopefully for the next three years, so potentially $75,000 to keep this important asset going for the community.’
Echonetdaily asked Col Lee how he was feeling compared to three weeks ago. ‘To see the joy of the volunteers today, who have prepared some of the meals, is so fulfilling for me,’ said Mr Lee.
‘I’m just so grateful we were able to get this far. Everybody’s so excited to start this up again.’
Col Lee thanked the board of the Cherry Street Sports Club for their generosity, with 100% support of the funding initiative.
Cherry Street Sports GM Tere Sheehan said, ‘I didn’t realise the significance of this place until I got in contact with Col and started to understand the concept of what they do, and they do an incredible service for our community.’
Speaking about the challenges faced by clubs and other businesses during COVID, Mr Sheehan said, ‘We had a potential revenue loss of about two and a half million dollars while we were closed for ten weeks. But we’re a part of the community and this is how we give back, through club grants, and other sponsorship deals that we do throughout the year.
‘On behalf of the entire club, 14,000 members, and our Board of Directors, everybody’s really exciting about this happening.’
More than a meal
Col Lee said, ‘Now that the word’s got out, and we’re commencing again next Tuesday, some of these people that have relied on the Ballina Hot Meals Centre for their main meals of the week are just overjoyed. They’ve been really struggling and are so looking forward to this.
‘And it’s not just the meal, it’s about the community aspect as well, where people can come together and have a bit of fellowship.
‘They might be suffering through the loss of a loved one, or they’re depressed, or they’re just lonely, this ticks every box and gets everybody back together again.
‘We know we’re under COVID rules now, which is a bit restrictive, but it’ll work extremely well.’
Mr Lee explained that his Rotary Club of Ballina-on-Richmond has agreed to help out with COVID marshalling for when the Ballina Hot Meal Centre Inc re-opens.
Volunteers always needed
Coordinator Beatrice Gray said they are still on the lookout for more helpers, particularly younger people. ‘Any one else that wants to come and volunteer would be welcome.’
Long term Hot Meal Centre cook Sarah Gent said, ‘It’s not for everyone, but sometimes we get young people looking for a job, and they start here and it gives them the confidence to go on.
‘We’ve had high school kids come and train here too, just to give them a bit of a grounding.’
She said that she’d always hoped the Centre would re-open, but was beginning to lose hope. ‘I thought we weren’t coming back. I really thought this was the end.’
Beatrice Gray was all smiles yesterday. ‘I was quite worried, but it’s all worked out so well!’
Local member’s view
Tamara Smith, Member for Ballina and supporter of the Ballina Hot Meal Centre told Echonetdaily, ‘This is a fantastic outcome and I commend Cherry Street Sports Club for stepping into the breach and providing funding for Ballina’s only soup kitchen over the next three years.
‘Under COVID and with the second highest statistics for rough sleepers in the state in our area, we need this service more than ever,’ she said.
‘On behalf of the community, I thank the St Francis Xavier Catholic Parish, the Ballina Masonic Center and all of the volunteers for keeping the Ballina Hot Meal Center going for more than two decades.’