When the Premier comes visiting you tend to tidy up the house, put on your best clothes and pray it doesn’t rain. This cool November morning it pours down, of course. Inside Gumbramorra Hall our staff and volunteers are setting up long tables and the production line of grocery items and fruit and vegetables they will pack into our Emergency Food Hampers.
Outside on a circular road, organisations like Stepping Out, Connect: Inner West Transport Group, Community Cultural Connections and even individuals collecting for neighbours doing it tough are lined up in their vehicles, waiting for the hampers they will distribute to people in need across the city. Around a hundred Latin American students have arrived for their hampers too, all of them caught out by the Covid-19 crisis and the absence of financial support as Temporary Visa holders trapped in deteriorating conditions in Australia. Burwood Girls’ High School choir is sheltering under the eaves of the Hall, practicing sweet and rousing versions of songs like ‘Peace Train’ and ‘Landslide’ as the rain ceases and the day turns sharp and clear.
It’s basically business as usual for a Friday. With an accelerated tempo to the start of the day. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is coming to Addi Road to take a good look the work we do and the vibe spreads quickly. She is the first State Premier to visit our community centre – located on NSW Crown Land in Marrickville – in the 44 years it’s been operating. Naturally enough, this makes her visit a big deal for us, and a much appreciated one too.
At the main entrance to Gumbramorra Hall, Addison Road Community Organisation CEO Rosanna Barbero waits with Addi Road’s new Ambassador, former footballer and SBS commentator Craig Foster. Beside them is a rather recognisable Addi Road Food Pantry volunteer, best known to many as actor Bryan Brown. Around them are Addison Road Community Organisation Board Members and the leaders of various community organisations and social justice groups we support and work with.
When Gladys Berejiklian arrives she’s nabbed for a quick photo op by Walid, the proprietor of our on-site Egyptian Street Food van, Koshari Korner. But no time for coffee today. Later, Walid will have to put up with online trolls abusing him for failing to change to course of NSW political history after he posts his photo with the Premier.
By the time Gladys Berejiklian is getting to entrance of the Hall, there’s already a scrum of iPhone photo-taking going on as Bryan Brown welcomes her and introduces Gladys to Rosanna and Craig. Her namesake Gladys Namokoyi – alias Kween G, poet, musician and Board Member – gets time to discuss the vices and virtues of sharing such an old-world first name. Berejiklian laughs and says “You’re the nicest Gladys I have ever met. I don’t have a middle name, so I’m stuck with it. You’re the world’s most beautiful Gladys!”
As the phones continue to snap away, the official tour inside begins. Gumbramorra Hall has been functioning as an emergency food preparation and distribution centre now for six months, ramping up it its work radically over that time and supplying hampers to some 60 different charity and community groups after the Covid-19 crisis kicked in. It’s estimated we went from feeding 2,000 people per week through our usual Addi Road Food Pantry in Marrickville to nearer 6,000 people per week once our Food Relief Hub was fully established and the hampers were flying out the door.
Berejiklian acknowledged how well Addi Road stepped up to the plate, creating the Food Relief Hub out of the food handling experience and infrastructure we already had in place from operating our food rescue and food security programs at the Addi Road Food Pantry since 2015. Fridges, vans, connections to community groups, trust, links to donors and a system of working are not things you can conjure out of thin air when an emergency like Covid-19 hits a community.
The repurposing of Gumbramorra Hall as a Food Relief Hub nonetheless involved a huge increase in our need for volunteers, which is how our partnership with Craig Foster and his #PlayForLives campaign began, bringing in a swathe of sports people, some of them big names, to assist us when their local activities were shut down. Filling up a food hamper at a box today is former Swans captain Kieren Jack. He and Berejiklian have a little talk about #PlayForLIves and what it’s been like volunteering at Addi Road.
She moves on through the hall with ‘Brown’, as Foster likes to call him, and Rosanna Barbero, the three of them explaining the packing of the food hampers, what’s in them, where the food comes from and how the hampers are distributed. Company CEOs, sports people, community activists, students and unemployed people all work side-by-side packing boxes.
Outside the students are firing up a BBQ to make a much-needed breakfast and boiling water for hot chocolates. The Burwood Girls’ choir is launching into Ed Sheeran’s ‘I See Fire’ just as the Premier is leaving the Food Relief Hub and coming out onto the Green outside. ‘I See Fire’ is song about love and transformation and meeting the challenges of a troubled world before returning to a much calmer one; themes with which most people here can relate to one way or another but given special voice by teenage girls putting their hearts into every word. As the choir members themselves say, they may be young but they have something to contribute and they want to make their voices heard.
As Berejiklian moves off again to see the Addi Road Food Pantry she turns to applaud the girls when she hears their song finish, reaching her arms up high over her head. Across the circuit road, the Pantry is having its shelves restocked by more volunteers under the watchful eye of our Food Pantry Manager Damien Moore. Last port of call is the StirrUp Gallery, where the Public Schools Arts Festival will be opening tonight.
It’s an intense visit, with a lot to take in, but Rosanna Barbero, Addi Road’s CEO is pleased with the outcome and Berejiklian’s understanding of what we do. “Gladys said, ‘It strikes me you could be anybody when you come in through those gates to come here.’ She got it! Straight away. I didn’t even have to tell her. She noticed the business donations from the different food donors in the Hall. She acknowledged all the Board Members. She was happy that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), a part of her government, had helped fund the infrastructure that was required and critical for us to upscale and provide food to food insecure communities at a time of real crisis. And she was gracious too – she stopped and spent time with people, whether it was Kieren Jack or the school girls from Burwood, or a single mother who had come here needing food. She made time to hear them and speak to them.
“Within the nine acres here she could see there is something that encapsulates Australia in all its variety. People might come here to help us. Or they might come because they are hungry and in need. But we don’t ever treat anyone like a problem. We’re a community and we invite everyone to be part of that. She really got it.”