How are Australian charities adapting to pandemic conditions?
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;
Story

How are Australian charities adapting to pandemic conditions?

Stories/734 , Issues/Homelessness
Brisbane QLD
7th May 2020
How are Australian charities adapting to pandemic conditions?
Maintaining connections with vulnerable communities is now more important than ever.

With a shopping trolley full to the brim, Susie Longman could very well have been accused of hoarding. What she was doing, however, was far more altruistic. She was about to use the crisis fund from her new charity, 2000 Hearts, to distribute food to those going without free community meals due to COVID-19. 

“People could go to a community meal up to seven times a week,” Susie said over the phone. “So today, through 2000 Hearts, I went and emptied out two supermarkets of all their two-minute noodles and cup-a-soup.” According to Homlessness Australia,  one in 200 people are homeless in Australia each night. They are among the many who rely on the charity and community sectors to fulfill their basic needs. Faced with shutdown measures and a decline in both donations and volunteers, charities and not-for-profits around Australia have had to innovate quickly to keep supporting some of Australia’s most vulnerable throughout the pandemic. 

Early in April, national not-for-profit Orange Sky suspended its operations to assess how to continue their free laundry and shower service safely while respecting social distancing. Normally, Orange Sky volunteers run 300 weekly shifts around Australia for people experiencing homelessness. Co-founder Nicholas Marchesi explains that they have reduced the frequency of these shifts to allow for extra hygiene measures and fewer volunteers.  

“It has meant that we’ve had to look at how we safely operate with the current environment,” Nic said. 

“We probably always knew that Orange Sky would be needed for a sense of community and connection that’s really important for human life.” 

One week after the pause, Orange Sky ran a successful trial shift in Brisbane abiding by the Covid-19 directives. New measures include bollards to maintain social distancing, extra cleaning steps and equipment, and special training and a contract for volunteers. Many volunteers have taken a break for the time being to protect themselves and others, while Orange Sky has issued a callout for new volunteers younger than 55. Oliver Weihtman is a seasoned volunteer who chose to attend the trial shift for new volunteers.  

“Our aim is to mitigate the risks as much as we can, and part of that is to make sure our volunteers are as well-equipped and well-educated as possible,” Oliver explained. “So they’re not just stepping into business as usual, but they’re stepping into a modified environment that’s viewed as a separate type of shift.”

Orange Sky will continue operating at reduced capacity to keep supporting their ‘friends on the street’. In Brisbane, the usual 28 shifts per week in Brisbane will drop to two or three. Oliver says these shifts mean more than clean clothes to people who are largely disconnected from the community. 

“People have been struggling to access a variety of services. We’re conscious of the fact that we’re more than a physical service. There’s the contact of good relationships that are lost when we no longer come around every week or every fortnight.” 

Those who rely on international organisation The Big Issue are also experiencing changes after the not-for-profit stopped all street sales of its magazines last month. Since 1996, homeless, marginalised or disadvantaged people have earned an income through selling The Big Issue magazine on streets. Now, the 800 magazine vendors in Australia are relying exclusively on digital magazine sales and subscriptions. 

The Big Issue’s Australian Editor Amy Heatherington said that emotional support is vital for vendors during this time. “A lot of our vendors are having a tough time, and we’re talking to them about that,” said Amy. “We have a Facebook group where we’re all talking to one another and discussing what’s happening in their lives. A lot of the services they might usually use might have been suspended during the crisis.”

“We’ve done a call out to our readers and asked them to continue supporting our vendors, not only financially by buying the magazine but also by dropping them a line – sending in an email or going on social media with messages of support.” 

The move to digital fundraising is fundamental to charities successfully adapting to the challenges of Covid-19, according to the newly formed Charities Crisis Council. On April 23, the Council urged the government to standardise online fundraising regulations across Australia to allow “all charities large and small to quickly pivot away from face-to-face fundraising”. The Council attributed a recent significant drop in donations to traditional fundraising methods no longer being viable, fewer volunteers, and less donor interest due to the pandemic. 

Susie’s organisation 2000 Hearts already operates through online donations and says going digital helps people continue to support our most disadvantaged in a time of uncertainty. “Everyone wants to help, but we just need to make it easy for them.”

“And the other thing is, five dollars is within so many people’s reach.” 

Five dollars could be the difference between skipping a meal or having something to eat. On a larger scale, these donations could go a long way to help charitable organisations around Australia continue to adapt to the pandemic conditions.  

Support the Big Issue here.

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