Geelong businesses get on-board food program providing vital support for residents of the north experiencing disadvantage, amid COVID-19 pandemic

Published: 26/04/2020

Dozens of residents in the northern suburbs hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue to receive the support of their community and a home-cooked meal, thanks to the generosity of local businesses and dedicated volunteers.

More than 60 residents in the northern suburbs of Geelong who are experiencing hardship are now receiving a hot, home-cooked meal delivered to their homes each Monday.

The weekly meal, Monday Norlane Neighbourhood Meal (at Home), is organised by local community organisation Norlane Community Initiatives.

The households, which included families and the elderly, also receive a pantry pack of essential daily items made up from food from Geelong Food Relief and Foodbank Victoria.

The Norlane Community Initiatives program is initially supporting 30 households but demand is strong and organisers hope to be able to expand with support from the community.

Geelong business leaders including Lino and Richard Bisinella from Bisinella Developments, Frank Costa and Barry and Keith Fagg have thrown their support behind the initiative which started earlier this month, providing essential funds so the program can continue for the rest of the year.

The Monday Norlane Neighbourhood Meal was started 15 years ago in Norlane by community organisation Urban Seed. When the organisation closed, Simon and Kaylene

Reeves who had been working for Urban Seed for more than six years, launched Norlane Community Initiatives in 2018 to ensure the work in the community continued.

Each Monday members of the Norlane community have come together at their much-loved community centre to shop, cook, prepare and then eat a meal together.

However, the community centre was forced to shut its doors last month, a casualty of the COVID-19 crisis. Not to be deterred, Simon and Kaylene Reeves explored ways to continue the weekly service in a different format.

“We usually have our neighbourhood meal on Monday nights for about 60 people and also our people’s pantry where we distribute food, which is run on high levels of volunteerism. But we were finding it hard to continue given the circumstances,” Mr Reeves said.

“We were needing to limit social interactions so finding volunteers was hard and finding food for the meal was hard with conditions on how much you could buy from the shops.”

With the support of Bisinella Developments’ Director Richard Bisinella, Monday Norlane Neighbourhood Meal (at Home) was developed to ensure the program could continue.

Family-run business Bisinella has engaged the support of Lara business Millars Café to prepare meals for the program one week a month. The adapted program started on March 6.

“Richard organised for Millars to do the first week which meant we were able to distribute to 30 households, with a bit over 60 people in total receiving a roast chicken and vegetable pack. It gave us the energy and inspiration to keep things going.”

Frank Costa and the Fagg family will fund the second and third week of every month, with Norlane Community Initiatives’ social enterprise café Aviary Café preparing these meals.

“The people who receive these meals experience various issues of disadvantage, which makes getting through this pandemic and state of emergency even more of a challenge,” Mr Reeves said.

“The home-cooked meals and pantry supplies are a welcome relief. This couldn’t have come at a better time. Single people living on their own, especially the elderly, and then families are the main groups finding it hard at the moment.”

Norlane Community Initiatives is a placed-based community-led organisation. It aims to care for people and place through programs and initiatives that seek to address specific community needs around social isolation, supporting families, food security, activating local leadership, health and well-being.

The residents who receive the cooked meal and pantry pack are part of the community the Reeves and the team are cultivating at Norlane Community Initiatives. Most are in Norlane, with some in Corio and Lara.

Mr Reeves said the weekly hot, home-cooked meals gave households something to look forward to.

“People are very grateful. It gives them a break from putting things together and space to rest and breathe for one night. It also helps their household budget. We’ve seen people even more disadvantaged (because of COVID-19). It’s even harder for people at the moment.”

“We could probably easily give away 50 or 60 meals if we continue to receive the funds to be able to do that. We know there is the need and demand there for more.”

Mr Reeves said the support from the Bisinella, Frank Costa and the Fagg family was “incredibly important”.

“It feels like we are in this together and not on our own. To have the support come in through the business groups gave us encouragement and also access to resources that we didn’t have. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Bisinella Director Richard Bisinella said it was crucial this vitally important service had the security to continue this year.

“I never cease to be amazed by the generosity of the Fagg and Costa families as well as my father Lino Bisinella.”

Donations from local businesses for Norlane Community Initiatives’ pantry packs will be gratefully received. There is high demand for meat, fruit and vegetables and other hard to get items.  Alternatively, the public can donate money to the program. For details visit www.norlaneci.org.au