OzHarvest and the Sapphire Community Pantry have been Christine Welsh’s focus over the past years, helping those who are in need.
Since retiring from Sydney to the Bega Valley, Ms Welsh voluntarily spends time every day collecting food, recruiting volunteers, researching or visiting markets to gain publicity.
She has spent an amazing amount of effort, not only feeding “hungry hearts” but also instigating other projects for disadvantaged people in the Bega Valley Shire.
The Australia Day award for outstanding community service recognised Ms Welshs’ achievements and work in the community.
“I really appreciated the award, although everything is on the back of volunteers, supporters and donors - I couldn’t do it by myself.”
Ms Welsh is strong believer of “giving things a go”.
“If it fails you will never hear about it, if it succeeds you will never stop hearing about it,” she said.
Ms Welsh established OzHarvest on the Sapphire Coast in 2014, although has shifted her time to the Community Pantry and is looking to find a coordinator to keep OzHarvest up and running. The pantry opened its doors in Bega in September 2017. There are now 400 members and around 60 shoppers per week.
“We aim to make everything in the pantry as cheap as possible, we don’t make any profits or anything,” she said.
Ms Welsh has witnessed the pantry help a variety of people.
“One lady, a pensioner had to all of a sudden care for her eight-year-old grandson who had a disability, she was finding it hard to care for both him and his special needs and also pay bills, rent and get food on the table – the pantry has helped her a lot.
She was finding it hard to care for him and his special needs and pay bills, rent and get food on the table.Christine Welsh
“Another circumstance is a single mother with four toddlers, living in rental accommodation – I am buggered if I know how she manages it. She comes in every week,” Ms Welsh said.
“It also helps people working casually, there are a lot of casual workers down here and because they are earning money they can’t apply for government assistance and still have families to support – the rent is the killer I have found with most people.”
Ms Welsh is thrilled to have extra food donated by the community.
“We are now starting to get the community involved with excess fruit and veg from their garden, we take as much as anyone wants to give us,” she said.
“We take anything provided that it is in date and not opened, and looks safe.”
Ms Welsh has also been involved in the distribution of 600 wool blankets to the homeless of the Bega Valley in 2015 and 2016. She has also played a role in Share the Dignity which is a national charity that calls to people to donate a handbag with personal items such as tampons, pads, shampoo, deodorant etc for homeless women.
“Things like that [sanitary products] are really hard to get, they are so expensive. I have heard stories of homeless women using leaves and bark or going to public toilets to get as much toilet paper as they can; it’s so awful.”
Ms Welsh was recently chair of the bid committee for the NSW Rural Women’s gathering to take place on the Sapphire Coast this year. The bid for the annual statewide community event has been accepted and 400 women are expected at the October event.