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28 Sep 2015


Women Empowering Refugee Women, do just that

Lissa McCawley and SSI’s Catherine Sell unloading donations.

Ms McCawley collected the hampers with a food drive organised through Women Empowering Refugee Women, a joint initiative of SSI, Knox Grammar School and Ravenswood School for Girls. Its aim is to assist vulnerable mums to engage, connect and understand Australian life.

The group of volunteers has supported SSI’s regular initiatives for people seeking asylum, the SSI playgroup in Parramatta, Community Kitchen in Auburn, and provided food packages for asylum seekers.

Around 20 people from the Terrey Hills community and beyond contributed to the hampers Lissa delivered. A significant donation came from a mothers group in Bondi. A woman heard about the food drive on Facebook, collected money from her mothers group and shopped, filling many bags with groceries.

The hampers contained everything on Lissa’s list and more. She requested and received rice, tinned and dried lentils, chickpeas, beans, tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, tinned tuna and sardines, tinned and dried dates, apricots, figs, raisins, cooking oil, herbs and spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili, salt, pepper), nuts, tea and coffee, sugar and UHT milk.

But the wise mums putting together their hampers knew there were specific and essential things that mothers who are seeking asylum would need, and added toiletries, wipes, nappies, shampoos, conditioner, soaps, sanitary pads, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Ms McCawley heard about Women Empowering Refugee Women from Kiki Paul, like her a parent with a child at Knox. Kiki encouraged her to take on a food drive.
Her first attempt didn’t go well but the second was successful, Ms MCCawley said, because she spread the word through Facebook and there had been media coverage of the refugee crisis.

“The issue was in people’s minds and they wanted to do something,” She said.

Ms McCawley asked members of the Women Empowering Refugee Women group and her own friends to share the dates and times of food drops. A story in the Terry Hills newsletter, which reached older people not on Facebook, also led to many significant donations.

Ms McCawley waited outside the Terry Hills chemist shop on two days in September and people turned up in cars loaded with hampers.

“I sat outside the chemist with bags all around me. I was the bag woman,” she said.

The generous response didn’t surprise her. “I like to make a difference. With the help of everyone else, I have made this happen.”

Ms McCawley has also been asked to pass on information about SSI.

“There are quite a few retired ladies who would like to volunteer in the kitchen,” She said.

What happens next?

“Probably another food drive.”

SSI Special Projects Officer Catherine Sell was amazed by the efforts.

“Often donations are from people who clear out the back of their cupboards and give things they don’t use,”Ms Sell said. “But this group has gone out and purchased really good, high quality groceries that directly meet our clients’ needs. Things like nappies, sanitary items, coffee. Things that add up.

“This will make life a lot easier for many people.”

Ms Sell said, “I’m overwhelmed by this generosity. This is great quality stuff. Having someone willing to champion it, organise it … and fill up her garage is wonderful support.
“Lissa was willing to sacrifice her time and energy to organise these hampers and bring them to Auburn. It’s amazing.”

“It is really humbling working with people who are willing to work so hard and come this far with all this food. This would have taken hours and hours to organise. It’s just amazing and generous.”

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