Written by Lizzie Macaulay
It’s not every day you get to peek behind the curtain of an organisation that is truly, demonstrably, changing our region for the better.
Through my column over the last year, I have done some pretty interesting and varied things – all of which have enriched my life.
But this month, I got to do one better. I got to enrich the lives of others (in whatever small part).
My assignment this month was to help out at the low-cost supermarket that operates as a part of the We Care 2 program, and the New Life Christian Church.
‘Extra Choices Low Cost Food Support Centre’ exists to give assistance to more than 600 customers a week who find themselves on a pension or government benefit as their primary source of income. It is a hugely essential service and provides so much more than ‘food’ to its customers.
If I’m being completely truthful, I drive past this building every day, but I had no idea this service existed here, let alone the incredible impact for the region and beyond.
I arrived right on 8.30 and preparations were well under way for another busy day in the shop. The stock room out the back was bustling with smiling volunteers who were busily weighing, stacking and distributing the morning’s offerings that have been donated from local businesses and supermarkets, or
purchased for resale at a reduced price.
It’s a precision operation.
After a briefing from We Care 2’s formidable operations manager, Jan Carlson, who knows all, sees all
and, I suspect, is the beating heart of this incredible organisation, I’m set to work.
I stack shelves, label products and get things ship shape, although of course, it has to be said, it was already looking pretty ship shape to begin with, so I’m mostly just floating around.
The doors open bang on 9am, and a flood of regulars stream through the door. They have their trolleys, and you can see each customer is keen to get through.
One of the wonders of this service has to be the sheer surprises that await the early birds here – random products tend to appear and disappear quickly as customers snaffle up new additions to the shelves – today’s rare treat was whole pavlovas, for instance!
I’m struck as I speak to Jan, and the other members of the team at how important this service is. Not just in the sense that there is a resource for those who need it, but the impact beyond that, too.
Environmentally, there’s a huge upside to finding a worthy home for products that would otherwise be wasted and end up in landfill.
There is a huge sense of community felt by everyone involved – not just the customers, but the volunteers and staff, as well.
The ripple effect of that is enormous. What does a sense of belonging do to a person who is otherwise feeling lonely, disenfranchised, separate from society? What happens to their worldview when they discover a caring community to embrace them and make them part of the ‘family’, so to speak.
I can only imagine the positives here…
Finally, the big moment arrived – my turn to serve a customer!
I have to admit, I got a little nervous as I stepped up to the register, and wished I’d tried my hand at a local supermarket as a teenager…
What if I pressed the wrong button?
What if I wasn’t smiling enough because I was concentrating?
It’s possible, too, that I was overthinking it.
Thankfully, my gorgeous first customer, was patient, kind and full of banter that made me feel like I wasn’t completely useless and we got her safely out the door with an incredible array of goods.
The rest of the morning went similarly, and I was so honoured to have been included in such a worthwhile undertaking – it may be an everyday occurrence to everyone else, but it was completely special to me.
As I finished up at Extra Choices, the overwhelming feeling was gratitude.
For that fact of the place, for the reminder of the good in the world, and, for the smiling, dedicated faces I encountered at every turn.
Extra Choices Low Cost Food Support Centre is open (via $5 annual membership) to Fraser Coast residents who are in receipt of government benefits, or are struggling to afford food. Open 9-2, Monday-Friday, you’ll find the We Care 2 Initiative and New Life Christian Church at 225 Main Street in Urraween.
With many thanks to Jan, Tamara and the entire We Care 2 team.