The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed our way of life. When the restrictions were put in place by the Government in the State of Victoria, our organisation had to adapt its services in order to keep serving those most vulnerable in our communities. As a result of these restrictions, all child-related activities have been put on hold. One might think that our Youth Conferences (aka Young Vinnies) would go on a hiatus during this time but for a few of us, that simply was not the case. You see, the truth is, Young Vincentians in Victoria do not know how to be quiet. We are a vibrant bunch, full of enthusiasm and always willing to serve but how do you put your faith into action during a global pandemic? The answer is, we had to innovate and adapt like many people to face the challenges in this new kind of world we are living in.
Nicole and I both share the role of State Youth Representatives in the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria and we wanted to find a way to encourage our members to continue to serve those most vulnerable in our communities in a manner that is safe, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. We both also knew deep down that we simply could not neglect the kids who regularly attend our activities. We knew they would be doing it tough because many of our families are already at risk of facing challenges associated with loss of employment, isolation, mental health issues, domestic violence and homeschooling, just to name a few.
So, on Saturday March 30th, 2020, we both put forward a proposal to State Council of Victoria, to allow Youth & Special Works Conferences to undertake an initiative to purchase / source material goods (such as books, toys, board games, sporting equipment etc) and have these items delivered to children who are serviced by our Youth Conferences (Young Vinnies) in Victoria. The aim of this initiative is to assist families in providing their children with resources to occupy them at home during the current restrictions due to COVID-19.
Thanks to the endorsement of State Council, we were able to encourage our Youth Conferences (Young Vinnies) to take the opportunity to participate with the COVID-19 Youth Initiative funded by our State Youth Team and we allocated a budget to each conference to spend on the participants who are part of our programs.
However, simply encouraging our conferences throughout Victoria to partake in this initiative wasn’t enough and we just had to get involved ourselves. Luckily for the two of us, we both belonged to the same conference and with the help of three of our conference members, we all went out and got in touch with our local families who we serve. Part of our processes were to call the parents over the phone before we would go out and purchase the items and deliver them because we wanted to add more of a personalised touch. So, we would call the parents to have a conversation with them, check in and see how their family is going and let them know that we are thinking of them during this time. Many of the parents contacted were able to provide insight into what they think their child would benefit from when trying to cope with COVID-19 restrictions. The information was used to go out and purchase the personalised items for the children. Once we purchased the items, whether online or at the local department, we then deliver the items to the family home.
At each child’s home, gifts were left on the doorstep in accordance with social distancing requirements. The look of joy on their faces when they accepted their gifts was priceless. Both parents and children were grateful and the conversations shared touched our hearts. A few of the parents opened up about their daily struggles and how their children’s mental health and selfesteem suffered because they were struggling with homeschooling. A few children / teens with special needs were severely challenged with home schooling to the point where a few parents reached a breaking point emotionally, spiritually and mentally because they just didn’t know how to support their child. At the end of the day, not every parent is a school teacher.
Despite hearing all sorts of struggles from the families there was a silver lining where one particular mother stated over the phone “You called me at the right time and despite having challenges of moving house, working from home, caring for kids with special needs and homeschooling, God works in mysterious ways, your phone call has certainly put a smile on my face and no doubt the kids would be happy to see you! Oh and of course, at a distance!”.
When Frederic Ozanam and his friend went out to gather firewood and deliver it to a person in need, it was not just about giving the firewood but more about the conversation he had with the person receiving it. For our COVID-19 Youth Initiative, that principle did not change. Although from the outside, it may have seemed like we were just going out buying gifts for the children, it was actually more than that. It was all about having a conversation with a family going through a tough time and as for the gifts for the kids? Well… just an act of kindness.
♦ Bao Nguyen is the State Youth Representative for the St Vincent de Paul Society in Victoria.