DARA’s Van Co-ordinator, Baden Ellis, began working for the Development and Relief Agency (DARA) in October 2017.
He says he was attracted to the position because “I have a background in hospitality and an interest in youth and social work. DARA’s Van combines all of these, which made it the right fit for me.”
Baden says that while the service provided by the DARA’s Van team members is a small part of the solution to the problem of homelessness in the area, its real value lies in its focus on giving dignity and a bit of practical help to those that are in difficult life situations.
As Baden reflects on the way DARA has made an impact, he shares a memory about a family of four.
“Last year a single mum of three regularly visited the van. Around Easter time, we served fish. After the meal, she came up to me, bawling, gives me a hug and says ‘That’s the first time my kids have had fish. I’ve never been able to afford it for them’”. Her eldest child was 12 years old.
Baden says that every week is different with the van which makes his job unique. Although providing food plays a large part of it, the real job is conversation - listening to and talking with the friends that attend.
Baden has been told by friends of the van that sometimes the only people that will talk to them are DARA’s Van volunteers. “They may not even hear someone say their name for a week - until I or one of the volunteers greet them,” Baden said.
DARA has over 200 volunteers and one of these is Emily Vu Doan. She has been a DARA’s Van volunteer in Maitland for over six months.
“Volunteering teaches you about yourself,” she said. “When I first volunteered I overthought things and stayed in the van because I didn’t know what to say. Now I’m so busy talking, I sometimes need to be told to get back in the van to serve food!”
Just as dignity is given to the friends of the van through volunteers remembering their names and talking with them, for Emily a highlight of her work is being remembered by the friends of DARA’s Van. She earned the nickname as ‘the caramel slice girl’ when she first started volunteering due to her delicious cooking. Now she is known by name.
DARA’s Van served 5,500 meals in 2018, with 3,600 of those meals prepared by students from St Francis Xavier Hamilton, St Paul’s Booragul, St Joseph’s Lochinvar and Cardiff High School.
DARA’s Van visits Maitland, Islington, Nelson Bay and Raymond Terrace. In 2019 the plan is to add more locations. This growth means there is a need for more volunteers, so if you are interested in volunteering - or would like to make a donation - please go to www.dara.org.au.