Life on the frontline

9 September 2021 | Posted In: #140 Spring 2021,

Within a few months of COVID disrupting life in Sydney for a second time, the Addison Road Community Centre recorded a 20 percent rise in food demand every week. Mark Mordue reports.

The playlist in the hall rocks along to Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Down on the Corner’. Someone must like their old classics. Volunteers packing hampers inside the Addi Road Food Relief Hub pick up on the musical tempo. They’re joined by ex-Socceroo and Addi Road ambassador Craig Foster, who has been coming here for the last year promoting our food security and social justice work.

Local police and a few young ADF soldiers have also come along to see what we are doing and how best to work with us in getting the food hampers out there — and simply to better understand what is going on. Energy, information, plans for future action . . . there’s a lot being packed together here today.

Vans and vehicles have been rolling up all morning to collect around 800 boxes of food. Among the community organisations and charity groups picking up hampers are Newtown Neighbourhood Centre; JNC (The Junction Neighbourhood Centre), who work with communities everywhere from Glebe to Maroubra; Lighthouse Community Support operating from Lakemba across the south west; Marrickville South Collective, a constellation of charity groups; and the Fijian Association with whom Addi Road has forged very close bonds.

Rosanna Barbero, CEO for Addison Road Community Organisation says, “I can feel things ramping up. We have 30 shifts, AM and PM, and around 260 volunteers a week now. As well as all the civil society groups working with us, we also have hampers being delivered individually by our volunteers to people’s homes. It’s very hard for people and their kids all at home in heavy lockdown. And it’s privileged to think you can just go online and order home delivery as a solution. Not everyone can do that.

“We’ve been talking to people and we know in south-west Sydney that the police are knocking on doors. Teachers at school are picking up on where there is a lack of engagement with kids and letting the police know. The police are going to these homes to try and help, as often what is happening is there might only be one computer shared between five or more people. And even if kids have access to the computer, the parents don’t know how to help them engage with the online learning programs. It’s not simple and can be confusing, particularly for primary school age children. As best they can, the police are trying to help.

“So you see how complicated it gets. The feelings of helplessness. Delivering food becomes a way to engage and find these things out and not frighten people. There is a tendency to see these things in terms of numbers in the media. But these are very human concerns and troubles as well as logistical, health and inequality concerns. And they require a response on that human level too.”

Back inside the Addi Road Food Relief Hub, conversation with Craig Foster inevitably turns to football. With everybody so hands-on and involved there’s no need to discuss the pandemic over and again. Asked about his time as captain of Australia, Craig explains that in big matches “it’s the first 45 minutes that are the hardest, not the second half. Because it’s in the first 45 that you’re trying to establish control.”

It’s not intentional, but you can hear in that analysis something of an active strategy for facing down the pandemic now. It can feel like COVID-19 has no time limits or shape at all, of course. And that the lockdown in Sydney will just drag on. It’s precisely this endless feeling that a simple but powerful thing like food relief meets and eases.

It does not hurt that Addi Road set up the Food Relief Hub last March when COVID-19 first hit and we got a taste of what a lockdown could be like. The alliance with Craig Foster and his ability to rally donors and volunteers through his media connections and #PlayForLives campaign has been phenomenal. In our ‘first 45’ we were also able to establish strong bonds with all kinds of wonderful individuals, businesses and community groups that have returned to work with us.

Now we are back at it, playing our second half. As people deal with the latest lockdown in Sydney and corresponding issues like job loss or reduced working hours and economic insecurity, as well as feelings of isolation and amplified anxiety, we’ve put our team out there again, answering all these difficulties through the Addi Road Food Relief Hub. We’re doing our best to ensure families and individuals have enough food to get by and find some sense of strength and unity in the community. In the process, we’re trying to make sure we establish some control over the inequality and fear in the next half of a long hard game we plan to win.

  • To donate to the Food Relief Hub, click here