by Shayne King & Kirsty Porter
An umbrella is a useful and necessary item. It protects us and brings us together. From April 2020 at Umbrella Dementia Cafés, it was all of these things and more.
This is the celebrated story of how our umbrella supported 50 families when COVID-19 hit our community in Melbourne and forced us into lock down, the first time. *
It was the 2nd April and the word COVID-19 was just coined. Kirsty Porter, CEO of Umbrella Dementia Cafes, received a call from Dr. Kate Barrelle, the Chief Impact Officer & Manager Youth Programs at STREAT charity.
“Kirsty, can we help you help your community?”
Kate was leading a brand new partnership charity – Moving Feast. Moving Feast was created to spearhead action; uniting progressive Not For Profit (NFP) food organisations to supply nutritious healthy food to our most vulnerable Victorians. And the ingredients would always be sourced locally to keep the focus on health and local economic sustainability.
Moving Feast was fast becoming the new social enterprise creating change solutions during pandemic conditions advocating justice, sustainability and resilience for those most in need. We were in!
And so, it began, the ‘Umbrella Dementia Cafés Moving Feast Project’.
A week earlier the Victorian public were informed by the State Premier, Dan Andrews to stay at home for their own safety. In that moment, our most vulnerable and isolated community friends were just about to be even more isolated!
Our Umbrella Dementia Cafés became part of this solution. Dr. Barrelle and her team ensured 200 meals a week would be allocated to us as a first response. The meals would be made in the STREAT Café, in Collingwood and would be delivered to us by the 8th April. For those who don’t know about STREAT, it’s a social enterprise that provides supported vocational training to marginalised and disadvantaged young people in Melbourne.
With all these COVID restrictions, our members despaired – suddenly their services, family visits, daily errands and social outings all but stopped! Kirsty being typical Kirsty grabbed Kate’s offer with both hands and ran with it. Kirsty had 6 days to make it happen. She needed funding, volunteers and a venue! There were also the new COVID-19 safety details to think about and connections to be made.
An idea to create connections and boost empowerment
Kirsty called to action all those who have helped build Umbrella Dementia Cafés to step up and support our community in our time of need, and assembled a team of volunteers, including myself, to make this project happen.
One Community Church, Blackburn offered us their facility as a depot to receive the meals from Moving Feast. It was a ‘home’ where we could safely work in, divide up the meals, re-package them and then distribute those the meals to our members. The church is wonderfully big, and at a time when we could still work indoors, there was plenty of space to ensure social distancing wasn’t an issue. Of course, masks and gloves were used and at the ready at all times.
On that first day, we were scheduled to receive more meals than we had people to receive them! So, the net was thrown wider and we contacted our friends at Villa Maria Catholic Homes, One Community Church, Uniting Agewell and St Thomas the Apostle Parish in Blackburn to ask if they had members that would benefit from pre-cooked nutritious meals too. And they said YES!
Now we needed drivers! Our wonderful community of volunteers responded! Eight families put their hands up, grabbed their car keys and cooler boxes and met us as the Church! With all the permits and COVID safe protocols in hand, we were up and running.
How it worked
The meals were prepared, frozen and delivered by STREAT Café to the venue in Blackburn. Our team of packers, Vicky, Bec, Lara, Kirsty, and Shayne were there to receive them and place them in labelled bags, ready for the drivers. One Community Church generously shared their donated food pantry hampers and we included those in the deliveries as well.
The impact was far reaching! The people we served not only enjoyed nutritious meals, they received a massive (socially distanced) community hug, a friendly smile and words of hope and encouragement; we would endure this pandemic together, what-ever it took! We also spent this precious time together to help our members connect online and find that crucial connection to their families and friends!
“Thank you, I felt so loved” – Geoff
“I wasn’t forgotten, thank you” – Gladys
“Mum and Dad, we’re so grateful to receive their meals yesterday, thank you and the team again” – Rebecca
“Just wanted to say thank you so much for organising the food drop for mum. It is such an unbelievable help, and we are so grateful! “ – Sally
“Thanks for your love and effort in dropping us the delicious meals & parcel, we really appreciate that very very much, to be honest I have never been spoilt to have 5 meals cooked for a week for us!” – Ley & Dan
“Such a big thank you to all involved for their generosity for the food parcel…Does one’s heart the world of good in this strange time” – Lyn
Together we achieved
From that first phone call by Dr. Kate Barrelle on the 2nd April, Moving Feast supplied us with meals every week until the 30th June. Our Umbrella volunteer team delivered 1,860 meals over several weeks during our first wave of COVID-19 restrictions. We facilitated 800 to our Umbrella Dementia Café members and 900 to other organisations – the true ‘we’re in this together’ definition!
This is what we strive to do. We protect and bring our community together under one umbrella supporting the most vulnerable. The Rotary Club Box Hill Central and Community Bank Blackburn South funding partnership was instrumental in allowing us to purchase the meals and empowered a fierce responsive team between Moving Feast, Umbrella Dementia Cafés Ltd and One Community Church when we needed it the most.
Results brought more than we thought
Our volunteers discovered the real joy of their weekly deliveries. they developed a wonderful connection with everyone, especially for those who lived on their own.
As the co-manager of our Moving Feast Project, Vicky Barnes, wrote “Being able to converse at a safe distance with mask and gloves was a huge advantage. Three lovely ladies in their 90’s enjoyed this time for a chat and helped us appreciate the need for social contact. The interaction, which brought laughter and joy, will always be remembered.”
Another volunteer said, “When there were so many do’s and don’ts of what we could and couldn’t do, being able to visit another person and actually see the smile on their face was pretty terrific.”
At first we thought this project was about supplying meals for people who couldn’t get to the shops, but it became much more than that.
What they say about volunteering must be true – you get more out of it than what you give. You could call that a “win, win”.
Our umbrella was complete and we like to think that we did what we do best – connect people, make ideas work and unwavering to empower those under our umbrella.
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Shayne King is a volunteer at Umbrella Dementia Cafes and worked alongside Vicki Barnes as the Project Managers of the Umbrella Dementia Cafes Moving Feast Project.
Kirsty Porter is a registered nurse and the CEO of the Umbrella Dementia Cafes.
* Melbourne, Australia has argubly endured the toughest COVID-19 restrictions world-wide, experiencing isolation for more than 200 consecutive days. Our physical dementia social groups (cafés) closed from 16th March 2020 to 30th November 2020. In that time Umbrella Dementia Cafes successfully coordinated 112 online ‘Zoom Cafés’ for all four of our cafe groups, resulting in our members experiencing less isolation, fear and disconnection that might otherwise have been expected. Together, we stayed connected!