‘I wanted to help distribute food directly to those in need. With the help of Fr. Kevin Dillon, Parish Priest of St. Mary’s, my vision was realised.’ I’m interviewing Gary McIlvena as we sit in the St. Mary’s Food Pantry, next to St Mary’s Church in Yarra St. We are surrounded by shelves of packaged foods, freezers. A day later there would also have been a table full of fresh vegetables. ‘Our clients are marginalised. For example, the homeless or pensioners…they have Centrelink cards or Immigration cards. A single person goes away with a single bag of groceries, a family with two or three bags. We help about forty families a week who come here from all over Geelong and district.
‘We operate without any Government funding and depend on a team of 38 volunteers. The food comes from a number of sources- The Food Bank of Victoria and Second Bite to name two. Our eggs are from Egg Marketing Australia.
‘Once a month Mr. Lino Bisinella, a well-known local developer, makes a significant financial contribution towards the purchase of stock. The four Catholic Primary Schools in Geelong also collect food for us.
‘We also cooperate with other organisations, so Uniting Care might phone and say that they have frozen yoghurt or dinners (for example) that we could use. It’s a combined effort as it takes about $10,000 annually to run the program.
‘We distribute bread to about ten groups, e.g. St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Encompass and Samaritan House, and run a Breakfast Program at nearby Christ Church on Fridays as well as supporting the Men’s Program at Kardinia Park on Fridays.
‘St. Mary’s Primary School run a program whereby groups of four students from Grades five and six take turns in coming in on a Wednesday afternoon. They help bag up food, sweep or do general cleaning up. It’s an excellent way for the children to be aware and to be involved in the assistance to the many underprivileged people here in Geelong. They enjoy the experience and are very receptive to helping out.
‘We are a happy social group of volunteers who have lots of fun and laughs as we work together across many levels.’
Photo: Phil Hines Photography