A mighty collective heart instinctively pumps a message of “stronger together” and it courses through the communal bloodstream determined to overcome any challenge. COVID-19 created a new wave of problems, but the response has been swift and targeted, recognising the groups at the coalface dealing with the dilemma.
Newcastle City Council identified early in the pandemic that community groups would struggle to deliver services to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and initiated the Boost Our City grants program. All-up, 31 community organisations jointly received $550,000 to continue critical services.
CatholicCare Hunter-Manning secured three Boost Our City grants. Counselling and Support Service received $14,850, which will fund up to 80 counselling sessions for people whose mental health has deteriorated as consequence of the COVID-19 isolation requirements. Multicultural Support and Assistance received $12,500 to help refugees, recent arrivals and asylum seekers affected by the pandemic.
DARA food service received $7,797, but just as importantly an in-kind donation to use Newcastle Museum’s café and kitchen. This grant covers the costs of preparation and delivery of about 770 meals to the socially isolated, homeless, and financially distressed. The DARA program, staffed by volunteers, has more than doubled its preparation of meals during the pandemic.
CatholicCare was a successful applicant for a $5,000 Multicultural NSW grant to be spent on support services for multicultural families with exacerbated issues as a consequence of COVID-19. AGL and the Newcastle Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia also provided generous support to CatholicCare, along with community group Collective Heart.
Robert Dawson, Strategic Engagement Manager CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning, says it is heartening to receive assistance from Newcastle City Council and other organisations that in turn enables help to be provided to the marginalised. Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes addressed the CatholicCare recipients and donors last month at the Museum.
“Our Rapid Response community grants are part of council’s $5.5 million Economic Resilience plan,” said Cr Nelmes. “We’re proud to support CatholicCare delivering essential services to our community in these difficult times.”
The Rapid Response program is a deliberate strategy to ensure assistance is provided to the disadvantaged. When possible, given COVID restrictions, Cr Nelmes visits the frontline operators.
“It allows me to get a good feel of how the most vulnerable end of the spectrum in our city are coping during this pandemic,” she said. “I know CatholicCare, along with other NGOs, does an exceptional job working with disadvantaged groups, making sure they are supported – whether it’s job training, or multicultural and refugee support programs.”
COVID restrictions have ensured some intuitive initiatives. The shutdown of the Museum café and kitchen enabled council to allow CatholicCare to use it. “We are in continuing talks about keeping that initiative going,” said Cr Nelmes. “It’s perfectly suited for this collaboration with CatholicCare and its amazing volunteers to continue cooking meals for the homeless.”
Collective Heart’s Matt Linnert understands the importance of “breaking bread” together. The group is committed to finding opportunities to share kindness and generosity in a practical way and was introduced to John Sandy, Project Liaison Officer at CatholicCare’s DARA Refugee Hub.
“We felt that out of all the beneficiaries we have, the refugee community was one we hadn’t quite done as much for as we would have liked,” said Mr Linnert. “John started talking about the need for soccer boots for the kids to be involved with sport. It wasn’t just the soccer boots that interested us in particular, it was actually his philosophy behind it. It was all about the introduction of kids into a community, breaking down the old ideas of who the kids could play with … looking at healthy integration.”
Collective Heart also sought to assist people who don’t speak English as a first language. Out of that came the “cooking event” at the Soul Café in early June. The refugee community and Collective Heart partnered to put together meals and then deliver them to families in need.
“There’s something about food that brings people together,” said Mr Linnert. “Just to have that sense of a greater family. Sometimes people feel like they don’t have a lot to give in terms of material things or money, but just bringing people together can make a special difference. And the giver is often the main beneficiary.”
Council is the closest level of government to the community and Cr Nelmes wants to make sure Newcastle is doing everything it can within its domain to support the community.
“The $5.5m grant program is all about getting the money out rapidly to those most vulnerable,” she said. “Part of that is also making sure we pull levers on projects to create jobs sustainment. There is an extra $33m going into our works program next year. Our REMPLAN analysis showed 700 jobs in the Newcastle LGA and a return of $275m to the economy.”
Creating jobs, assisting services such as CatholicCare providing multi-faceted support to the vulnerable – stronger together.
Anyone interested in Collective Heart, please go to www.collectiveheart.com.au or call 0421 207 953.