Everyone calls her Grace. But her real name is Keresi Rabuatoka. Her organisation does not have a formal name, just a bunch of able-bodied people she has martialled into action. Usually she – and everyone else – calls them The Fijian Community.
TFC. The Fijian Connection. The Finest and Coolest. The Free and Casual. The Faithful and Caring. Anyway, you get the idea… The Fijian Community are here!
The Fijian Community comes with Grace every Wednesday to the Addi Road Food Relief Hub, picking up hampers and distributing them all over the city… a car, a van, a ute, whatever works best is used on the day. Grace waves her hand like the whole world is just across the other side of the car park… “Glebe, Waterloo, Leichhardt, Redfern, we go to all these place and give people who need it boxes of food from Addi Road. Not just the Fijian community, everybody. Hungry people. We go to the police station at Glebe and I drop off boxes there too for the PCYC. We go everywhere for all people.”
Grace whips out her iPhone to prove it. She and TFC have just packed a small container and sent it off all the way to Fiji. They fitted in 30 boxes of hampers from the Addi Road Food Relief Hub, two large fridges, a whiteboard and a red filing cabinet with a sign sticky-taped to it that says ‘CLOSE THE CABINET’. Grace has a good laugh about the sign.
The fridges will go to two family homes that need them. Some of the hampers will go to a church that can distribute them. The whiteboard and filing cabinet and most of the food hampers to a school for homeless kids. “Things are very bad in Fiji,” Grace says, quite distressed behind her smiles. “I wish it was land all the way there so I could drive there with food every week. I would drive and drive,” she says, brushing her hand back and forth in the air. “There is no money for people, no jobs, you see. They cannot afford to buy enough food. I get email, messages, calls all the time. I wish I was a millionaire.”
Many people have their home gardens but it is not enough, Grace explains. Greatly restricted travel also means a lack of variety in what food is available. An inability to share and exchange what you have. Grace speaks, too, of generational changes that have undermined traditional gardening practices and independence. “We joke the kids like palagi stuff, international food,” she says. “They like the gadgets, all of that.”
The collapse of the tourism industry, lockdowns, COVID-19 breakouts in various island communities, high levels of job loss, long-term deforestation, the very low incomes for those who are working… the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated all of Fiji’s problems. And the poor are suffering the most.
Grace and The Fijian Community in Sydney keep sending money and food. They keep on helping people in Sydney too. Charity begins at home, they say, and Grace makes that home happen wherever and whenever she can do some good. This container load that Grace has put together from Addi Road should get there in the second week of December, she reckons. “Just in time for Christmas. Yes. The children will eat.”
You can hear more from Grace about the work of The Fijian Community and their relationship with Addi Road here.