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Byron Shire
February 1, 2023

Empanadas and community spirit in wake of cancelled Bluesfest

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People were happy to line up for empanadas. Photo supplied.

Eve Jeffery

With a collective sigh of disbelief and disappointment we processed the news that Bluesfest was cancelled – what came next for many in the Byron area community was the empathy for all the folk who were to had planned stalls at the event, and then a collective groan as we thought about all that food going to waste.

A Byron resident decided to do something to help all those folk with food hook up with all those folk wanting to eat and on Thursday evening Laia Sal Mola started the Blues Fest Food Recovery Facebook page. ‘The intention was to connect food stallholders with the community, help them getting some money back and trying to avoid food waste! The response was so quick, in less than 12 hours there were around 1,000 members on the group,’ said Laia.

Joaquin Varela and Elena Betto from Holy Moly Empanadas were quick to jump on board. ‘What a week,’ said Joaquin on Monday. ‘Everything was lining up. Jerry, from Jerry Smoke House gave us a huge opportunity to be part of the BluesFest, one of the biggest festivals in Australia. For us, with only six months in business, it was unthinkable. So we started dreaming.’

Hours and hours of planning and cooking

Joaquin said that he and Elena had put in hours and hours of planning, cooking, calling everyone for recommendations and their help. ‘We got there. The tent was almost ready. Everything was looking like a dream, we were so proud of us. But the news arrived. Less than 24 hours to the big opening – it’s cancelled. And now what?’

Joaquin said that the couple had more than 2,500 empanadas ready to go. ‘Jerry had more than 300kg of meat and fresh food ready for the festival and so did others from many other food stalls too. We first started laughing. We didn’t really understand what was going on. Should we start packing up? Do we wait until tomorrow and see if they change their mind? We never lost faith – kind of.

Joaquin said they had a lot of food, bills to pay, other events postponed for the BluesFest and a team of people ready to work. ‘So we started posting on social media asking for help to the community. People started gathering. They were creating Facebooks groups to support those businesses affected by the situation. People were messaging us to order food and to support us.

Overwhelmed by support and love

Sold out! Photo supplied.

Joaquin said he and Elena were overwhelmed by the support and the love of the community. ‘We tried to organise deliveries, that’s how we started right so let’s make it happen! Suddenly we found ourselves with more than 150 people that wanted deliveries and of course holidays on top, so no suppliers to ask for packaging. We didn’t even have the infrastructure to do them safely and in such a short notice.

‘So what should we do? Should we keep on going with the deliveries? Should we organise a pickup day? Will they come? We were very anxious and started stressing out. We were at the edge of exploding.’

The couple planned a pickup day and put hitter faith trust in the people of the community. ‘We planned it to start Saturday 9am. We expected people to start coming around midday, if they were going to come. That would give us some time to prepare everything.

We got there at 8.50 am, there were already people outside. We opened the door and suddenly one more, and another, and another, people were lining out all the way to the street. By 1.30 pm everything was gone! We sold out! No food was going to be wasted thanks to the support of the community, thanks to all those people that gathered and showed their empathy with the situation.’

Recouping some of their outlay

Although they were offering their empanadas at almost half price, they were able to recoup some of their outlay.

Laia said that people are still joining the group and offering their support. ‘ There are over 4000 members now. One of the hardest things though was to contact the stalls to encourage them to post their info on the group – I am not too sure why. I think few people left the area pretty soon after the cancellation. For the ones that joined in I think they were pretty amazed to have all their product sold out by Saturday.’

Laia said she is leaving the page open but she is not sure what is going to be the future of it. ‘I am so overwhelmed with the response on how many people helped me out as I don’t know much about social media, so It was such a joint effort! Many people are encouraging me to keep the page open as a way to connect people with food businesses, will see what comes up.’

Joaquin and Elena say this is yet another example of the amazing local community. ‘We are so proud to be a part of it part of and how proud it make us feel. For us being foreigners in Australia it’s the best example of how amazing the Australian people are.’

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