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Aquinas College hands out hundreds of free meals for those who need them in tough times

Giving back: Aquinas College staff members Siobhan Eames, Carol Curran, Toni Wolf, Gaye Thompson, Michelle Weti preparing food for the Friday Free Feedz.

IT started out as Friday Free Feedz, a drive-thru style food distribution to those who needed it in Southport – “no questions asked, no explanations needed” – put on by Aquinas College, Ashmore staff and community members, but it became a real glimpse into the needs of the community.

Assistant principal religious education Joe Alexander said he had a feeling the initiative really “tapped into something” meaningful and relevant.

He said he was surprised by the need that was there and the drive-thru style worked well because it was less confronting to those who needed help.

“There was one grandma who came through and she was in tears and just told us that of her extended family, nine in her extended family, four of the adults are now without work because they all worked in hospitality,” Mr Alexander said.

“They had six kids and she just said, ‘Give us anything, we’ll take anything you’ve got.’”

The initial goal was to hand out 100 warm meals, but over two Fridays alone, it was closer to 250 meals each day.

“They were gone so quickly,” Mr Alexander said.

Many who came looking for a meal had no connection to the school, but were in need, and the crew at Aquinas College were ready to help.

But as students return to school, warm meals would be replaced by food hampers because the labour hours wouldn’t be available as staff transitioned back into classroom teaching.

It offered a chance for the students to take control of the initiative though.

The 44 pastoral care classes in the college would each chip in a hamper of groceries for those in need.

Mr Alexander said the Year 11 and 12 students had been back a week earlier than the other students but he said it was “amazing how keen they are to be involved”. 

It had all started because a need had presented itself in the school community.

“We were acutely aware that many families in our school community were losing jobs and were doing it particularly tough,” Mr Alexander said.

“I also became aware too, that a lot of the homeless groups in Southport… like Rosies and Orange Sky, aren’t operating at the moment.

“We kind of had a real philosophy of no questions – we didn’t want to make any judgments –  anyone who came through just let us know how many meals they needed.”

Helping hands: Milk and other goods were donated to the Friday Free Feedz initiative, which Aquinas College staff members Kym Alladyce, Sue Kwon, Alex Williams, Lisa Whitehouse and Guardian Angels student Willow Castles handed out to community members in need.

The resources were available because the tuckshop was not serving students and the  hospitality set-up had a commercial kitchen laying idle.

And then there was the support.

“We had a whole lot of donations, virtually all the costs of the food all came from staff donations,” Mr Alexander said.

“That tallied up to probably a couple thousand dollars, all our staff just donated, teachers particularly.”

Donations started flooding in after local media spread word about the initiative; Mr Alexander had multiple ABC Radio interviews and the local newspaper featured the initiative too.

The whole initiative went to the heart of the Catholic identity at Aquinas College. 

Normally, around this time of year the college was closely connected with its local Vinnies chapter through the Vinnies Sleep Out but that was simply not possible with COVID-19.

“Our college has always had a commitment to social justice and, in a way, it’s not something new but perhaps what we’ve tried to do is kind of something relevant and meaningful to the particular time at the moment,” Mr Alexander said.

“We’re just trying to find a way to do something.”

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