By Danielle Kutchel
As the child of migrants, Ashvina understands better than most the sorts of struggles that new arrivals to Australia face.
Her parents were lucky enough to have money when they arrived, but others who came with them did not, and subsequently struggled to make it through.
After investigating the subject for a report at university, Ashvina realised that the supports that were in place when her parents arrived hadn’t changed all that much in the intervening years, leading to social isolation, exclusion and food poverty.
Searching for information online about what support was available for migrants – and finding very little – something clicked for Ashvina: “if there were gaps in links online, there had to be a gap in services for all these communities.”
She set about creating COOK4CALD, to provide food to the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community in Casey and Dandenong.
The passion project soon bloomed from an idea formed at the dining table into an organisation of 50 volunteers.
Starting on Sunday December 6, the group will begin cooking meals each Sunday at the Casey Youth Hub on Webb Street, Narre Warren. The summer program will run until February, and Ashvina hopes it will bring some joy to those who may struggle to celebrate the festive season.
All ingredients are sourced from local supermarkets, are drawn from different cultures and are tailored to people’s dietary requirements. The meals have been designed by nutritionists to be as healthy as possible.
CALD communities can fill out a Google Form to provide details or dietary requirements, or they will be able to call the organisation to explain what they need if the form is inaccessible. The meals will then be delivered directly to the family in need.
“We want them to understand they have the community backing them, and that they can ask for help if they need. The whole point of this is to make the community unify in their diversity,” Ashvina explained.
Cook4CALD will cater to all families, no matter how big or small, but will be relying on community donations, at least to start with.
It’s been driven in part by Covid, with the pandemic resulting in many of the community’s most vulnerable – migrants and refugees – among the first to lose their jobs.
“Most people were getting [support] from the government for the hassle Covid brought, but for a lot of international students, migrants and refugees, they weren’t getting anything and that made it that much harder,” Ashvina explained.
Through her own personal connections, she knows that many newcomers struggled in silence, ashamed of asking for assistance.
“The thing about asking for help is it’s a vulnerable thing to go, especially in a foreign land,” she said.
To try and encourage them to reach out, Ashvina has set up social media accounts for COOK4CALD, and has placed fliers about the organisation in high-traffic areas like public libraries and supermarkets.
A crowdfunding page has been set up to gather donations for ingredients and materials for the meals as well as kitchen hire.
Ashvina hopes her organisation can partner with other like-minded community support networks to deliver more assistance to those who need it.
“One meal a week isn’t going to tackle food poverty, but it’s a start,” she said.
“If we can alleviate that in any way, one free meal is a good way to start.”
To donate to Cook4CALD, visit https://www.mycause.com.au/page/237556/cook4cald
To connect with Cook4CALD or to ask for help, find them on Facebook and Instagram, @COOK4CALD.