Melissa Holmes works for Stepping Out in Leichhardt. “It basically involves helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse to live in the community.”

She’s come down to Addi Road’s Emergency Food Preparedness and Response Centre in Marrickville to pick up hampers being made for those in need.

Melissa explains that “the people I work with are already socially isolated. They can handle that. But they can’t handle the panic happening out there.” 

Volunteers here at Addi Road are working with an almost military style order, going from table to table – collecting bottles of pasta sauce and spaghetti, cans of baked beans, brown rice, cup-a-soups packs, biscuits, fresh fruit and vegetables- and completing hampers to deliver into the waiting cars.

Melissa keeps looking after her shoulder to see when her vehicle is next in line. There’s a faint feeling of life during wartime, when everything is starts to feel okay, a new kind of normal as some people are saying.

We move closer to Melissa’s car as the hampers are being loaded in. Melissa agrees. “Only as a community can we fight this, and we can only manage that if we pull together. If you wanted a sound byte from me today it would be f’ing ‘calm the farm’ down’.”

She laughs a little And reflects on the daily reality of her clients, many of whom suffer not only from anxiety but life-long PTSD. “To go to the supermarket where people have this crazy look in their eyes grabbing at all the toilet paper… it’s just too much for them to cope with.” 

“The hysteria is something even people in good mental health are finding too much. Imagine what’s it’s like for the people I work with, for anyone who struggles with anxiety.”

The truth is that “most of the disadvantaged of our community are always living with social isolation,” she says.

In a strange way Melissa sees what is happening as an opportunity for new understanding and what she calls “a chance for empathy”. “People are getting a glimpse of how it feels, maybe, to not be included.”

She worries that a few people she works have had to go to hospital or self isolate because of COVID-19. “They can’t see their kids. That’s awful for anyone, but for people I deal with it brings up all kind of issues related to abandonment.”

It’s not easy for Melissa either, she admits. “I want to be with my mother but because of work and risk of exposure I can’t.”

“Everyone is trying to find that balance again in our personal lives,” she says. “Everyone is feeling it.”

Melissa hops into her car. Hampers are filling up the back seat and the boot. “You just have to remember there are those out there suffering in silence.” And with that she closes her car door, waves goodbye, and drives off into the Inner West to see the people she is caring for.

Story by Mark Mordue

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