Making a difference in someone else’s life rarely requires a huge fuss. More often, it is the small gestures that can transform someone’s day, writes Sue Cattermole.
The resilience and solidarity of regional and remote communities in Australia should be an inspiration to us all. As CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria, one of the great pleasures of my role is that I have an opportunity to see how charities like ours work within their communities to identify an issue and then come together to offer hope.
The daily work of those who volunteer their time is varied, hands on, and a cherished part of these communities. It is a circle of friends volunteering in one of our Vinnies Shops; it is conference members running a fruit drive for the local school; it is a face-to-face conversation with someone in need to ensure they can access the basics, with dignity. It is flexible, responsive and localised support.
In a world obsessed with taking a macro view on things, Vinnies is at the coalface dealing with all the essential moving parts; building up people, one by one, and the communities within which they live. In the current climate of international political unrest, these ‘little things’ are more important than ever; and at Vinnies these good deeds come in all shapes and sizes. The work of the Society is made up of daily stories of good works, many of which are in country towns.
Let me illustrate with a story of conference work in a little town in regional Victoria …
In April this year, Australia’s largest dairy processor announced it would cut its milk prices for suppliers by 10 percent. Coupled with dry seasonal conditions, high water costs, reduced pasture availability, higher feed costs, and lower milk prices, it’s made things increasingly tough for dairy farmers across the state of Victoria. In fact, their earnings have dropped by around 70 percent in the past financial year.
In Rochester, a town with just over 3,000 people, the St Vincent de Paul Society’s local conference decided it was time to do something to help—financially, but also as a sign of solidarity and support from the whole community.
On Sunday 9 October 2016, they hosted a special lunch event for dairy farmers. Teaming up with other community groups and sponsors, they provided a BBQ lunch, entertainment, prize packs, and special guests including former AFL star Kevin Sheedy and local politicians.
Even though it was difficult to entice dairy farmers to put their farm duties on hold for the afternoon, more than 175 families attended to pause for a few laughs, participate in activities and enjoy lunch together. Event organiser and Rochester Conference President, Gavin Houlihan, said this gesture has made an enormous impact on their community.
‘It was wonderful to see our local dairy farmers and their families come together, have a chat and forget their troubles for a few hours’, Gavin said.
‘The joy on the kids’ faces as they embraced the activities made the day very worthwhile. The feedback we’ve heard is that everyone had a fantastic time and all enjoyed the day.’
This is an example of one of the ‘little things’ our Vincentians do, all year round, that make such an enormous difference to the lives of people in regional and remote communities. To them, home and heart are never mutually exclusive—they are bound.
Our communications team in Victoria took a trip up to the Dairy Farmers Day Out in Rochester, 180km north of Melbourne, to capture all the action and I encourage readers of The Record to take a moment to watch this video, which is available online at https://youtu.be/dvqFgX8NQ4w. You will see, quite clearly, that the conference in Rochester is doing their community proud.
May I take the final words of this article to thank all our volunteers Australia-wide, for putting love at the heart of their work as Vincentians; it is an enduring and immeasurable legacy of which we are all enormously proud.
Sue Cattermole is CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Victoria.