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Salvos meeting lockdown challenges head on

29 July 2020

Salvos meeting lockdown challenges head on

Victorians never expected to re-enter life in lockdown due to COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped Salvos across the affected regions mobilising to support people impacted by this crisis.

While Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire are now under stage 3 lockdown, residents in the western suburbs were the first to see restrictions reimposed, with COVID-19 having a dramatic impact in the area.

Lieutenant Erin Mains from Mooney Valley Salvos says this second lockdown has been “fairly emotional” with members of the community upset and confused about how their area has been so affected.

“Ensuring the health and safety of the community [at this time] has been challenging,” says Erin. “Here at Moonee Valley we have a Recovery Church community that has been in place for five years. This community has been hit hard by the restrictions. The loss of their community has meant for many, the loss of their only support and contact through the weeks.”

Alcohol and other drug addiction programs have had a difficult time being seen as essential services. While Erin keeps in touch with all involved via social media, for those with mental health and/or addiction issues, face-to-face is incredibly beneficial. 

Erin says one of the worst things happening to the community is the emergence of apps to purchase drugs. “I was so heart broken when I was told about how you can now find out where they are in the neighbourhood and link up with a delivery of drugs, all from the couch. This has made the on-going tackle of addiction incredibly hard.”

Moonee Valley Salvos are now servicing areas of the community that have never relied on support before with some people simply unable to pay their weekly bills.  “We have had many food donations from the community which have helped us to provide for those in need,” says Erin. “There has been strong support from those able to give even though they are themselves in difficult times.”

In addition to her work meeting the spiritual and practical needs of her community, Erin took time out to volunteer with the Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES) team at the Flemington high-rise during recent tower lockdowns. She says while she was working for five-six hours, many were putting in 12-16-hour shifts providing food to people working within and around the housing site, such as hospital staff, SES and police.

“I was able to interact with the services there in a small way, serve them food, offer a smile from behind a mask and a quick word of gratitude for the work they were doing. The services all know that when the Salvos are there, they are going to get a good meal. It was lovely to be a place of comfort and peace for them.” 

Erin says she also learnt how to make a meal that would feed at least 50 people and was able to use that knowledge the following week for her direct community.

Nourishing communities in the west

Parts of the west are also being supported with meals provided by Sunshine Salvos’ in partnership with local cafes and restaurants. Captains Colin and Phuong Reynolds have sourced delicious pasta dinners from Alex Makes Meals and freshly baked muffins from Jolly Miller Cafe & Patisserie to distribute to vulnerable residents.

For Captains Monty and Mera Bhardwaj, who head up the intercultural community in Melbourne’s west, the lockdown has highlighted the power of ‘organic community’. “We are friends – a community. It’s going well, and people understand that if anyone needs anything, there is someone who can help them,” said Monty.

Monty and Mera’s social enterprise ‘Salvos Catering’, which supports refugees and asylum seekers develop skills and their own businesses in catering, has temporarily closed due to the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. They are now relying on the wider community to come together and support the needs of asylum seekers and people doing it tough.

Meeting the city’s needs

Melbourne’s Project 614 team – which has now finished serving at the affected city towers precinct – is now working around the clock to ensure every rough sleeper in the city has access to a face mask. With masks now mandatory in all public spaces throughout metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, this is a vital step in ensuring public health and safety.

Brunswick Salvos is also supporting some of the community’s most vulnerable residents with takeaway meals five days a week. With high unemployment rates and increased isolation impacting wellbeing, this is a necessary service for meeting community needs at this time.

“Rather than completely slow down [due to lockdown] we went straight to takeaway at the front door,” says Envoy Margaret Coombridge. “We see 30-40 people a day. And on Monday, Wednesday and Friday people can use the shower and laundry facilities by appointment, as a lot don’t have access to these things, especially if they are homeless.”

Continuing this mission in the current climate is not without its challenges – the team must regularly sanitise the premises, keep a record of people’s contact details and budget for every meal. But their main concern is the welfare of homeless clients staying in motel accommodation.

“We are overjoyed there is motel accommodation for them, but it’s week to week, so we continue to support them however we can,” said Margaret. “We need people to pray for their wellbeing and safety ... and that there would be a deeper look into a long-term solution.”

Keeping up community connections

South of the city in Hobson’s Bay, Lieutenants Star Conliffe and Charlie Jung are working closely with their congregation to stay connected with more isolated members. “With second lockdown, we felt that everyone needs to receive a phone call to check in on their wellbeing, so we created a phone tree for the corps, and a group of 18 of us will be making pastoral calls,” said Star.

Connecting with seniors or members without technology is also a priority for the Greensborough Salvos and they have been practising socially-distanced house calls to check on their members’ welfare.

In an ever-changing landscape, Salvos continue to step up and support their community and while COVID-19 may have Melbourne in lockdown, it hasn’t locked out The Salvation Army’s mission to ‘live, love and fight’ alongside each other.

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