Renee and Michelle

Our dynamic kitchen duo, Renee de Bruyn (left) and Michelle Bourke.


Loaves and Fishes kitchen manager Renee de Bruyn spoke at the Launceston Mas National Collective Inspiring Women event in September at Cataract on Paterson. The event raised $2000 for Loaves and Fishes which Renee accepted on behalf of the organisation. Here's what Renee had to say to the sisterhood about food relief and being a working mum.

I have had the privilege of working for Loaves and Fishes since before the kitchen opened more than three years ago, getting to set up the brand new facility borne of more than two years planning by Our CEO Andrew Hillier and general manager Aaron Kropf.

If you haven’t heard of us, Loaves and Fishes is a social enterprise, which means we sell products, do catering and produce food commercially (you may have seen our jams in Hill Street), to help fund our main purpose, which is supporting vulnerable Tasmanians through the provision of Emergency Food Relief or EFR.

And the need is great.

A UTAS survey in April/May shows almost one-in-five Tasmanians don't have enough food to eat, a figure three times higher than it was before COVID.

A third of Tasmanian children never have breakfast before school.

During winter, many people have to choose between heating and eating, paying rent or buying food.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania delivers food and hope each week to thousands of Tasmanians doing it tough.

We have a warehouse in Hobart and a warehouse, main office and commercial kitchen in Devonport. We take surplus and donated food, much of which would end up in landfill, and repurpose and redistribute it as fresh produce, ready-to-eat meals, emergency food hampers and school breakfast supplies. Food is delivered free to more than 260 grass roots agencies like neighborhood houses, schools, churches, and charities such as the Benevolent Society, Anglicare and St Vincent de Paul.

These agencies make sure our food gets to where it's most needed.

Making miracles with donated food

My job as a kitchen manager is to figure out how our team can turn that donated food into ready- made meals, which our warehouse then delivers to our partner agencies.

About a million kilos of food is donated by farms, factories, bakeries, supermarkets, retailers and community gardens.

We peel, chop, and process around 600 kilos off fruit and veggies, and 100 or so kilos of meat each week which goes into muffins for school breakfast programs, as well as casseroles, curries, pastas, stir frys, roasts, and many other dishes to feed Tasmanians suffering from food insecurity.

Currently our Devonport Kitchen is producing around three and a half thousand serves of food per week. Our kitchen team consists of two kitchen managers: myself and Patrick O'Connell, who came on board about six months after the kitchen opened, three fulltime trainees, and three school-based trainees, and we are just about to sign up a fourth. We also have a handful of community volunteers.

Trainees make up the bulk of our kitchen team. From the outset, part of the vision of Loaves an Fishes has been to provide training and employment pathways to young people who otherwise may not have that opportunity. Mas National have been with us from the beginning signing up our trainees. They have patiently worked with me from my early days as a very green new kitchen manager, and continue to support us as we add new trainees to our staff.

They have been a pleasure to deal with and we are very grateful to them for the work that they do, as are our trainees.

Renee speaking at the event

Renee in action at the Women's Collective event.

Christian and inclusive

Though Loaves and Fishes is a Christian organisation, we don't discriminate. Due in no small part I am sure, to one of the founders being a gay atheist! Our team is diverse in gender, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, and AFL supporters.

With the invitation to represent our organisation here I was reflecting on where I have seen empowerment of women in my workplace and the greatest example for me, is my own situation.

About a year after I started managing the kitchen I became pregnant with my son Obi, who will be one in November. It was quite the learning process for my gay boss (and myself) to navigate the journey of a pregnant kitchen manager, maternity leave, and my transition back to full time including breaks to express for my breastfed baby. This support was invaluable to me. It was the difference in being able to stay in this job that I love, or not.

This support is continuing for myself, with the allowance of family friendly work hours, and has extended to Michelle Bourke who has come with me today.

Michelle started with Loaves and Fishes during the COVID-19 lockdown. She heard about Loaves and Fishes while she was doing her Certificate in Community Services and we feel very lucky that she picked us to volunteer with.

Right-hand woman

As our organisation grows as demand does, we are expanding, adding a processing kitchen atthe Devonport Warehouse. Michelle did such a good job as a volunteer that we put her on as a casual staff member, with the view to making her the supervisor in our processing kitchen. She is already my right hand woman with the packing of products that we do for Shima Wasabi, which she will take over once her Kitchen is up and running, as well as all other products we do for Tas Foods.

She has a great rapport with the kitchen trainees, who will rotate through the processing kitchen, day shift in the commercial kitchen, and our soon to be added afternoon shift in the commercial Kitchen. The hours of operation for the processing kitchen have been tailored to suit. Michelle’s responsibilities as a single mother. Work has begun on the processing area and we are hopeful that it will be up and running next month.

This expansion will help us continue to, and increase our provision of EFR for Tasmanian suffering from food insecurity. People from all walks of life, family types, suburbs and age groups.

So thank you. We are so grateful for your support today and for your generous $2000 donation. For every dollar we receive we are able to make two tasty nutritious meals. That's 4000 meals for Tasmanian’s doing it tough.