Around 8,000 free meals were given to a dramatically increased number of people needing them in Ballina over the lockdown period starting 9 August.
Organisers at the Rotary branch in Ballina, as well as volunteers for the Ballina Hot Meals service at Ballina’s Masonic Lodge and workers at the Cherry Street Sports Club have all described a rapid spike in people needing help to get by when work and revenue stopped for many in response to the lockdown.
Greens Member for Ballina Tamara Smith raised the alarm early in the lockdown on Bay FM after receiving a letter from the Rotary Club referring to single parents struggling to feed their families, women sleeping in their cars and elderly people needing help.
Many people reportedly lost work in Ballina when retail and hospitality outlets were forced to close or significantly reduce their productivity.
Ballina Hot Meals was offered twice per week, was overwhelmed with demand and in need of extra volunteers.
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Ballina Hot Meals has served dinner to the homeless and others in need for more than twenty years but was threatened shortly after the pandemic declaration last year.
A local church had funded the service through money collected during services but ran out of money when in-person events were outlawed under public health orders.
A desperate call for help was issued and that’s where the Cherry Street Sports Club [CSSC] entered the scene.
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‘Our motto is “profit for purpose”,’ CSSC General Manager Tere Sheehan told The Echo last week.
‘Our purpose is to continually improve the lives of our members and the community we live in,’ Mr Sheehan said, ‘so this situation was something that we just couldn’t ignore’.
Mr Sheehan said the CSSC board last year ‘graciously committed to $25,000 per year for three years’ to get Ballina Hot Meals ‘back up and running and fully funded’.
More recently, Mr Sheehan said the board ‘graciously approved’ to pay club staff through this lockdown.
‘So we ramped up the kitchen again, and started preparing meals,’ he said.
Speaking last week, Mr Sheehan said club workers were ‘just about to hit the 6,000 meal mark’ since the ninth of August, and volunteers still serving dinner twice per week had given away around 2,000, with the food all funded by the club and in-kind donations.
‘So it’s definitely been needed, that’s for sure,’ Mr Sheehan said.
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But the support wasn’t limited to free dinners anymore.
Mr Sheehan said Ballina Hot Meals served breakfast all through lockdown seven days per week and gave away fruit and veggie boxes thanks to local Ballina business, Hartley’s Fresh Market, as well as care packs for men and women from local pharmacies.
The club was also running online raffles each week through its Facebook page to help pay for the meals and to promote local businesses that supplied vouchers and other prizes for the raffles.
Mr Sheehan described the lockdown as ‘one of the most horrible times in a club manager’s career’.
He said the club was closed, there was zero revenue and he worried about his team of 54 staff.
‘But in so many ways, this has probably been the best month of my career,’ he said, ‘to be able to give back and do what we’ve been doing, it’s just heart-warming’.
‘The community support is just so heart-warming, it’s overwhelming, actually,’ the general manager said.
More information was available via the CSSC, Ballina Hot Meals and Rotrary club Facebook pages.
You can listen to an interview with Mr Sheehan aired 10/09/21 via Community Newsroom at bayfm.org.
*Mia Armitage is a Bay FM member.