WHEN the Newcastle branch of the Maritime Union of Australia passed the hat around its members recently, they collected $16,500 to support "people who were falling through the cracks" of official COVID-19 assistance, as branch secretary Glen Williams described it.
Mr Williams said some of the donors were themselves out of work and on JobKeeper.
Eastlakes Financial Services received $8500, Newcastle's Soul Cafe $5000 and the Catholic-run Development and Relief Agency (DARA) $3000, enough to provide 1000 meals to those in need, agency member Baden Ellis said yesterday.
He said COVID-19 restrictions meant DARA's van was unable to do its usual regional run, including Saturday afternoons at Islington Park. Meals were being driven to clients and demand was higher than ever.
He said many of the people who usually came for meals from the van at Islington were "sleeping rough" or homeless, which made it hard for DARA to reach out and find them to deliver meals now that the van was out of action for the time being.
"I'm in contact with about half of them, with about 25 who have fixed addresses and we travel around looking for another 10 to 15 who would otherwise come to us," Mr Ellis said.
"More than half of our usual clients we can't find at the moment, although a lot of them would also visit Soul Cafe in Newcastle and the Hope Cafe in Tudor Street, Hamilton, although they have closed because of the coronavirus."
This was confirmed by a notice on the Newcastle Care Facebook site, which said it had closed the service until further notice, guided by government agency advice.
Mr Ellis said DARA also ran five community kitchens in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens and before Coronavirus was serving about 200 meals a week.
He said the service was now busier than ever and was providing an extra 50 or so meals a week.
"Many of the people we are helping are not the typical clients of the van or the kitchens," Mr Ellis said.
"The may have found themselves out of work or on JobKeeper and what they are getting is not enough to meet the sorts of costs that a typical family has to meet."
He said people could register for meals online with DARA. They would be "asked a few questions" and if it seemed there were other agencies that might be better able to help them, we would refer them on.
"But if it's just food, we can help them," Mr Ellis said.
Mr Williams said union members had been keen to do their bit to help where they could in the local community. The charities chosen to make use of the money raised had all faced a surge in demand because of coronavirus.
"Many working families have found themselves in financial difficulty because of the COVID-19 pandemic and MUA members wanted to do their bit to look after people who are doing it tough after losing their jobs or homes," Mr Williams said.
"Despite facing economic uncertainty themselves, local maritime workers have dug deep to provide what assistance they can to help those less fortunate get through this terrible time.
"Trade unionism is about working people sticking together and looking out for each other, which is why MUA members have given what they can to lend a helping hand to those in our community most in need."
Soul Cafe chief executive Rick Prosser thanked the union members for their generosity.
"On behalf of our team, and particularly the guests we serve each, the Soul Cafe is greatly appreciative of this tremendous community support," Mr Prosser said.
"This donation will enable our work to continue as we serve some of the most vulnerable people in our community."