Soroptimists

Caption: Soroptimist International George Town members, (from back left) Anneke, Jane and Judy preparing food hampers.


By Paul O'Rourke

Many George Town locals consider the neighbourhood house a second home, a refuge and a lifeline, a place to connect and access a range of free services, including food.

It’s difficult to overstate or accurately quantify the profound impact the Loaves and Fishes Tasmania partner is having on an often overlooked community. Many see the north-eastern town as a poor relation to the more fancied sister suburb of Low Head, the larger centres of Launceston and Devonport, and the picturesque East Coast.

However, there is a strong sense of unity among community groups working hard with the council and others to change George Town’s perceived image, through beautification projects and other initiatives designed to draw tourists, restore pride and promote growth.

The neighbourhood house has been serving the community for close to 40 years, providing counsel and support, from how to negotiate Centrelink and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), to employment, housing and legal services, through to after-school programs for kids, a needle exchange and community garden.

On the day we visit, volunteers are on hand to help unload the fresh produce, eggs and ready-to-eat meals from the Loaves and Fishes van and store the food in the nearby shed.

An hour later, three cheerful older women from the Soroptimist Club arrive to prepare hampers for those who have registered for food relief. Twice a week, families drop by to collect the food. Those who are house-bound or lack transport will have the hampers delivered.

The footpath is lined with donated books, clothing, furniture and odds-and-ends free for the taking.

The centre is feeding more than 60 to 80 families a week, from seniors struggling on the pension, the unemployed and those with chronic health problems, through to single parents and youth.

Simone leading the charge

And steering the ship is manager of 17 years, Simone Lowe, who remembers coming to the House’s Christmas party as a child. Simone came to the centre with her own daughter before volunteering.

“We’re not really remote in that we’re only 30 minutes from Launceston, but it’s a long way for many people so we’ve tried to bring as many services to the community as possible,” Simone said.

“You can come here and access a solicitor, get financial counselling, find emergency accommodation or food. There’s NDIS and three employment providers as well as a children’s psychologist and probation services.

“As important is the social connection we provide. It’s a drop-in centre for people who want to jump on a computer, read the paper, have a cuppa, watch television, attend our barbecue or pop in for playgroup. We try to provide services and activities for a variety of community interests.

“Once every two months we have giant community giveaways where people donate goods which we store in the shipping container before putting it out for people to take away.”

Simone said locals loved the Loaves and Fishes food.

“You guys give us a lot for which we are thankful. People register online for a food box twice a week which we are considering increasing to three, plus there’s always frozen meals in the pantry for emergencies.”

Food glorious food

Loaves and Fishes also delivers food in George Town to St Vincent de Paul.

On the day we visit, “Vinnies” and the neighbourhood house share 440kg of food.

A second drop of 480kg is made 60km north-east at Scottsdale Dorset Community House.

Launceston, 50km to the south, gets an average of 3000kg each week.


Serving a large part of Wayne's world

WAYNE Barry, 57, (pictured below) who volunteers most days at George Town Neighbourhood House, also benefits from the free Loaves and Fishes’ produce and meals.

“I’m on a disability pension and the meals make a big difference,” he said.

“They are always good.

“I like to get a mix of fresh produce that I can cook, and the ready-made meals.”


Simone Lowe in the community garden

Wayne Barry