NOTCH delivers more than food to Far North Queensland community
Sandra Elton knows a thing or two about supporting community. As the manager of North Townsville Community Hub (NOTCH) for almost five years, she leads a staff of five part time workers and an army of committed volunteers who support the growing need for food relief and housing assistance in Townsville and surrounds.
SecondBite has partnered with NOTCH for almost three years via its Community Connect model, which has linked the centre to Coles stores in Bushland Beach and Deeragun, and Sandra says they couldn’t operate without it.
“With the support we get from SecondBite, we can help an extra 1500 people each month with food relief. With the cost of living pressures we’re seeing currently, we have people across all ages and backgrounds who need support, whether it be food parcels, a friendly place for a cuppa or access to computers to complete job applications. Having reliable and accessible food options to provide them each week makes a big difference.”
The Townsville community has been reeling since the 2019 floods, and ongoing flooding, compounded by COVID, has seen the entire population affected to some degree. Sandra says there is no one demographic group that is in greater need than another – it covers small business owners, farmers, middle income earners and the local Indigenous community.
“We have families and individuals who are still not back on their feet after the 2019 floods due to housing insecurity and job losses. With COVID on top of that, plus the three flood events that struck earlier this year which cut off access roads, the need for food relief is huge.”
“In January we were providing food to about 700 people a month. In June, that jumped up to more than 1600. The housing situation in Townsville is making things worse too. The 2019 floods caused a rush on available rental and selling properties and it has really pushed out the more vulnerable in our community such as single mums and those relying on Centrelink payments. Many people are living in tents or in transient accommodation, which makes accessing healthy food for nutritious meals really difficult.”
“Over the past few months, we’ve opened up our community centre to anyone who needs to come in and have a shower, use the kitchen, charge their phone or use the computers.”
To the north of Townsville communities in Rollingstone and Bluewater are also being supported. In Rollingstone in particular, which has a large elderly population, when roads are cut off and fuel prices are through the roof, many simply can’t get access to nutritious food. Each week NOTCH pairs up with the local playgroup and packs up extra food parcels on the bus to share with the elderly residents in the area. A stoic group, many of them felt they weren’t eligible for the support and suggested it go to others doing it tougher, but with the gentle persuasion of the NOTCH team the elderly have embraced the weekly pop-up food tables and also collect for neighbours who are isolating or without access to transport.
Food is so often a social connector for people, and the NOTCH program is no different. Sandra says the community support for the food program has grown such that locals who have excess produce from their own gardens often drop it off at the food pop ups, and it’s not unusual for boxes of oranges or lettuces to be donated to the group to support those in need.
“We’ve had people who were recipients of our support now come in and volunteer with us, and that’s such a great reflection of their appreciation and connection to community. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it is all about?”
You can find out more about the work Sandra and her team are doing for their community via the NOTCH website, https://notch.org.au/