Rookery responds to hungry, hurting and homeless

Social worker Wanda Komorn with volunteer Dean & Treasurer and Rookery manager Jenny Rowden (left) with president Lennice Wilson

The site of a former Penguin dog grooming business has become a vital community hub, feeding and nurturing the district’s hungry, homeless, and hurting.

The Rookery, the food and community care arm of Penguin Community Op Shop, opened just before Christmas and feeds and cares for about 100 people each week. Its reach extends far beyond Penguin, with clients seeking out the Rookery from Devonport, Ulverstone, Sulphur Creek, Riana, and Burnie.

Loaves and Fishes is one of many community partners enabling the Rookery to restore dignity and hope to struggling Tasmanians. A weekly produce delivery from Loaves and Fishes is distributed fresh or used to make meals for Rookery friends who queue for up to an hour each Wednesday.

Restoring dignity

“Before we opened the Rookery, people stood in the rain and wind on the footpath waiting for food,” volunteer Rookery manager and treasurer Jenny Rowden said.

“The Rookery has enabled us to bring them off the street, offer them food, and in turn restore their dignity.

“A lot of people we see are on some sort of Centrelink payment. Some are homeless, many live in social housing, many feel isolated and alone. It’s heartbreaking to see the level of need in what people generally consider as a prosperous tourist town.

“The Rookery has become a safe space where people feel they are welcome and belong. We have a volunteer qualified social worker who, with the other volunteers, gets to know our visitors and identify the other needs they have in addition to food.

Punching above its weight

“We then meet these needs; everything from white-goods and car batteries, to fuel, helping pay for car registration, to supplying bike helmets, bedding and furniture.”

The Rookery operates purely as a social enterprise, with all proceeds from the Op Shop, cash and in-kind donations, together with volunteer management and labour, funding community care that extends well beyond its own doors.

Penguin Community Op Shop funds school scholarships, makes donations to partners including Loaves and Fishes, and gives to community groups from the Sea Scouts to Doghouse Make a Wish.

Fresh produce from Loaves and Fishes Tasmania

Independent not-for-profit

Jenny said the Op Shop and Rookery were overwhelmed by community support which she attributed to being an independent not-for-profit, volunteer-managed and run charity.

Penguin Op Shop was born about two years ago when Vinnies closed the store in Arnold Street.

Many of the volunteers are retirees, combining their complementary professional skills to become a powerful force for good.

Loaves and Fishes general manager Aaron Kropf said it was a pleasure and privilege to work with the Rookery.

“The sheer size of the vision and the Rookery’s ability to deliver for so many people, so consistently, by attracting so many quality partners is staggering,” he said.

“The fact that it’s all done by volunteers, many of whom are retirees, shows the organisation genuinely cares for the community.”

Myriad partners

The Rookery partners with many organisations including Loaves and Fishes, Food Bank and the North West Environmental Centre Community Garden Penguin (which also donates produce to Loaves and Fishes). The Rock Church hosts a weekly community dinner and allows the Rookery free use of its commercial kitchen to make meals.

However, it’s the op shop customers and generous volunteers and donors who enable the organisation to reach so deeply into the community. Such is the op shop’s goodwill and respect, a Facebook post in response to a need garners almost immediate response,

“People have donated fridges and freezers, beds; you name it, we get it,” Jenny said.

“There’s a group of women from Melbourne who holiday here twice a year who always call and ask what the urgent needs are and then bring the goods with them.

“We also have a wonderful team of volunteers and committee members led by our president Lennice Wilson.

“It’s very humbling and very satisfying to be a part of something that’s making such a tangible difference in the lives of those who need it most.”

By Paul O'Rourke (published 08/05/2023)