Published On: 1 October 2020Categories: Stories

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania general manager Aaron Kropf (pictured left) was marched through San Francisco airport in shackles while wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.

It was 2010 and the former New York restaurant manager was being unceremoniously deported after spending four months in immigration detention, including his 30th birthday.

He landed in Sydney broke, with nothing more than the clothes he was wearing.

“For some strange reason I remembered my parents’ phone number in Tasmania and rang reverse charge. They sent me the fare to return home.”

A couple of weeks shy of celebrating a 40th birthday he doubted would eventuate, Aaron has chosen the upcoming World Mental Health Day on October 10 and Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Week (October 1-7) to share a painful journey of mental health battles, drug addiction, trauma and redemption.

He says the emergency food relief sector helped save his life.

“When I came back to Australia, I was put on a disability pension and written off to a life of anti-psychotic and mood stabilisation medication,” he said.

“I had a cousin who was working for SecondBite in Hobart and he invited me to do some volunteer work delivering food.

“After a couple of months, I decided I wanted to change.

“I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and began having cognitive behaviour therapy that allowed me to come off medication.

Promoted to State manager at SecondBite

Six months later Aaron joined SecondBite as the State administration manager before rising to State manager in 2012.

The former chef became the founding general manager of Loaves and Fishes in 2018 when SecondBite gifted its Tasmanian operations to the fledgling charity.

Aaron and CEO Andrew Hillier expanded the program to include a Devonport kitchen providing ready-to-eat meals, emergency family food hampers, school breakfast club supplies, a condiments range to help fund the relief work, and a range of training options for those with disabilities, at-risk youth and the long term unemployed.

“I wanted to give others the same opportunity I received when I was down and out. I so appreciate what SecondBite did for me.

“I also want to help remove the stigma of mental illness, and specifically Borderline Personality Disorder.

“It is a constant battle, but I’ve learned to manage my condition without medication.’’

Aaron is mindful of the support of and encouragement of various people who intersected his path at significant times, most notably Andrew Hillier.

The pair connected when SecondBite was looking to expand into the State’s north, and Devonport Chaplaincy was looking for food for its school breakfast clubs.

“I told Andrew I didn’t like working with churches.’

“I told him, I wasn’t a Christian and I didn’t like working with churches,” he said.

“Instead of becoming defensive, he told me about their work and his vision for doing more to help vulnerable families through food relief and community partners.

“He had a big vision which I shared.”

A long career in hospitality in Australia and overseas had left Aaron disturbed at the enormous amount of food waste generated by the sector.

He also wanted to include work experience, traineeships and mentoring do his small part to redeem a sector where staff are often treated badly by a demanding clientele, work long hours at night and weekends, and where suicide and drug and alcohol abuse is rife.


By Paul O’Rourke

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