This time last year we were living in the depths of one of the worst droughts in the country’s history. Bushfires were already raging across two states and we couldn’t have imagined the treacherous summer that was to follow. Internationally, concern was deepening about the state of social divisions in the USA and COVID had not yet turned the globe on its head.
The fires got worse. The pandemic hit like a tornado. It took a while but the rains did fall and offer hope to communities in drought. Jobs were lost. Many businesses failed because of the social isolation necessary to tackle the spread of COVID-19.
The collective toll on individuals, families and whole communities throughout all of 2020 has been big.
Vinnies was part of the story. Our members could not deliver good works. Our volunteers had to stay home. Our shops had to close. Our donations diminished in the face of hardship. We all had to live with deep uncertainty about the future – our future.
Working from home had its challenges as childcare centres and schools were closed. And isolation posed new challenges, especially for school students and young people.
A silver lining in a bad year was temporary housing for people living with homelessness where services and care were provided. Income support dramatically increased, enabling some of the most vulnerable people to live with a moment of dignity as they paid down bills, fed and clothed their children and even replaced a broken fridge or washing machine. That’s all changing, but hopefully we can depend on a reasonable Government to see the benefit of a more dignified living and ensure we never return to the pre-COVID levels of income support.
At the time of writing, our Victorian friends have beaten the pandemic. As we move closer to the close of this extraordinary year, COVID is at bay in Australia – for now. Borders are opening, people are moving around, and families dare to hope that they might celebrate Christmas together. Rains have continued to fall in many drought-declared areas and we can see people are slowly getting back on their feet. In fire-ravaged communities people continue to rebuild their lives and in doing so are rediscovering the resilience that makes us Australian. Our good works are beginning to flourish again as members are able to travel around their local communities. The Society is again shining its light to relieve the darkness and despair that so many in our communities are feeling in these times of unknowing.
As we leave this extraordinary year behind, we are mindful of the people who have lost so much. I look forward to 2021 and to all that that year will bring. I wish you and your families a safe and happy Christmas and peaceful holidays. We will come back in 2021 full of optimism and hope that we can continue our work to bring about a more just and kinder Australia where everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Because as Vincent said:
We must be full reservoirs in order to let our water spill out without becoming empty, and we must possess the spirit with which we want them to be animated, for no one can give what he does not have. ♦
Toby oConnor is CEO St Vincent de Paul Society National Council.