By Danielle Kutchel
The Casey Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) branch is many things to many people.
But most of all it is relief: from poverty, fear and hunger.
From humble beginnings at Queen Victoria Market five and a half years ago, the Casey ADRA branch has grown to three locations, staffed by around 60 regular volunteers.
Encompassing the Cardinia, Casey and Dandenong local government areas, ADRA provides healthy food and meals to hundreds of residents, a community leaders outreach at Fountain Gate and counselling and support groups for women, men and youth.
Victoria and Tasmania director of ADRA, Rebecca Auriant, says demand has increased statewide with around one in five people experiencing food insecurity.
Casey ADRA Cafe Team Leader Beata Stednik runs a food pantry from her home in Narre Warren North. From there items are distributed to people experiencing food insecurity as well as other relief agencies.
Ms Stednik and her team work closely with other local organisations like Transit and Casey North Community Information and Support Services, who help to identify the neediest residents.
They receive food donations from organisations like Secondbite as well as companies including Simplot, Nandos, Lite n Easy and local bakeries, which provide excess produce to be distributed to those who need it.
Ms Stednik says it’s important to realise that their support is not just for homeless people, but rather anyone who needs help.
“It’s focusing on people who are in hiding, struggling with food shortages but they won’t come and tell you because they’re shy,” she says.
“We’ve got a family that was existing on bread and butter, but they came to collect meals to take to Queen Victoria Market for the homeless in the street even though they were struggling themselves. I said, ‘you can’t do that’.
“We look at people and say they’ve got a car, they’ve got a nice house, but you’d never know that day to day, they struggle to feed their families, so it’s important for us to find those families to help them out so they won’t end up homeless.”
Volunteers also cook meals to be packed and given out at their regular spot at Queen Victoria Market each week, and provide cooking classes to teach people how to cook their own healthy meals on a budget.
ADRA is one of several organisations in and around Berwick to receive substantial support from Coles.
The supermarket giant recently announced that residents in Berwick experiencing disadvantage and homelessness received nearly 145,000 meals over the past 12 months thanks to a surge in Coles’ food donations from local stores.
The equivalent of nearly five million meals in food donations were donated by 2015 Coles supermarkets to 159 charities across Victoria, including ADRA and Bk 2 Basics.
But with demand always growing, Ms Stednik says ADRA is always looking for more support to enable them to continue their holistic activities.
Volunteers can put their hand up to run a cooking class, cook meals for distribution, lend an ear for socialising at the ADRA café, help with fundraisers or get in touch with other charities that might be able to team up with ADRA.
“Together, we can do so much more,” Ms Stednik says.