AC/DC’s ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n Roll)’ is pumping through the hall that Addi Road have converted into our Food Relief Hub.
About 30 volunteers step up the pace almost without thinking… canned tomatoes, lentils, baked beans, tea, noodles, chocolates going at precision speed into cardboard boxes. In another production line, fresh fruit and vegetables are being put into brown paper bags… potatoes, carrots, bananas, mandarins, avocados, apples, pumpkin. Then all of it loaded onto palettes and hauled off.
Chris Minns, NSW Labor Leader of the Opposition and the Member for Kogarah, is our guest hamper packer today. Minns smiles at all the action. At least as much as you can tell someone is smiling from behind a surgical mask. He raises his fist a little comically as he seals up another box of food. “AC/DC!!!”
Minns says he heard about Addi Road and its huge food relief effort through his fellow party members, Jo Haylen, the Member for Summer Hill, and Jihad Dib, the Member for Lakemba.
Dib has been down here at Addi Road every week packing hampers with his family. Minns laughs about Dib’s persuasive skills and salutes his commitment. “I needed to get out of the office, and I had this feeling I wanted to do something more hands on, ” Minns says. “I really want to do my best to spotlight community actions like this in any way I can. I hope being here helps.”
In between packing hampers, Minns meets some of the groups passing through that Addi Road are combining forces with: Deadly Connections, who are taking care of the Aboriginal community through Redfern, Waterloo and Glebe; and Leichhardt police officers who are part of a Local Area Command network that is working with the ADF to make deliveries through Sydney’s inner west and south west.
“It’s a bit of a change from doing highway patrol,” one of the police officer’s jokes. “Mostly people are actually pretty good about compliance. Everyone is trying to do the right thing and just get through this. But delivering the hampers… “
The officer shakes his head with genuine emotion. “I just love the community work. I took food to a home yesterday and this young woman answered the door. She’d taken on looking after her teenage brother who’d moved in with her because their mother was ill. And she was ready to break down in tears and was so grateful when I gave her the hamper. I could feel the emotion and how much she wanted to say thank you and talk to us. I had to take a step back as we need to social distance and we could not stay, but it meant a lot.”
Minns tries to take in the anecdotes and all the information about how we operate: 300 volunteers a week; 30 shifts; over 30 community organisations joining with local councils and police to pick up from our Food Relief Hub. Our sixteen volunteer drivers additionally taking care of deliveries to 600 homes. Scanning the hall, Minns says, “You’re doing a lot.”
As the Member for Kogarah – “an LGA of concern,” he notes – Minns is familiar with the pressures and problems of lockdown. Early experience in youth work gives him a special concern for long-term mental health among teenagers. Something as simple as a police officer delivering a food hamper that stabilises home life for the week may not offer any major solutions, but it sure as hell takes some pressure off.
In the bigger picture, Minns recognises “there are no easy answers” to what is happening. Just the hard work of getting through – and “getting vaxed” he says emphatically. And beyond that, meeting not only the public health crisis but the economic and social pressures that the pandemic has brought to the fore.
The community pulling together, as they are here today at Addi Road, is a big part of that healing work – now and for the longer term. Minns packs a few more hamper boxes and hears a few more stories before he has to leave. “Thanks for having me.”