The gap between being secure and having nowhere to live is far more slender than many might realise. A series of small setbacks, an mental or physical illness, a relationship break-up or a job loss can quickly intensify into a situation where someone becomes isolated and unable to maintain a sense of continuity in their day-to-day lives.
A new social welfare program launched in Ballarat last night is focussed on reducing the isolation felt by people who are homeless or are threatened by the possibility of homelessness. Called Meals for Change, it’s the product of a collaboration between UnitingCare Ballarat and several local businesses, supported by funding from community organisations and the Ballarat City Council.
Meals for Change’s intention is to get young people aged between 15 and 25 into local cafes where they can establish or re-establish connections with friends, with staff and with the wider community through sharing good, healthy food. They pay a $3 contribution towards the cost of their meal, with the balance being covered by Meals for Change.
Jen Pollard is the project officer for Meals for Change. She says the program is the eighth of its kind in Victoria, but that doesn’t mean there’s a simple template that can be applied to every situation in every city. Ballarat has its own idiosyncrasies that need to be addressed by experts with local experience.
“We’ve had a lot of assistance from those other cafe meals programs to find out what NOT to do. Rather than the usual ways of meals service for young people generally – your soup buses and Breezeways and Salvation Army breakfasts – what we’ve learnt is that it’s not only about nutrition but also connection and the self-esteem that comes with being part of community life.
“We have seven cafes who’ve jumped on board; they display our logo and they have all the arrangements in place. Our clients go into the cafes and they have what looks like a coffee loyalty card, and they can select a meal and a drink up to the value of $15. Their $3 contribution is good in terms of self-respect and how they are viewed by the community.”
For Belinda Murphy of Nibble on Sturt, one of the cafés participating in Meals for Change, the program is important because it reminds us that for some people life is really a struggle and those people shouldn’t be denied a chance to participate in day-to-day life.
“The cost of living these days is really tough, and the fact that we can help these people who don’t have a lot of money to have a decent feed, and eat something healthy – that’s important, it’s very important.”
Meals for Change donations jars are located on partner café counters. Ms Pollard said that in excess of $600 has been donated by café customers, which in turn will fund more meals. The Meals for Change program is funded through and supported by the Medibank Community Fund, Gandel Philanthropy, the Matana Foundation and Ballarat City Council.