Hope on wheels

For the Vinnie's Van volunteers the program is about more than just food and hot soup.

It’s a cold night in Launceston but the forecast does nothing to deter the Vinnie’s Van team.

They are fueled by the faces waiting to be greeted at their regular Saturday and Sunday stops in the Brisbane Street Mall and outside the Ravenswood supermarket.

One of those regular faces is Max* who has been accessing the service for about 12 months.

For him the food is just one of the reasons he eagerly awaits the team of an evening.

“They’re all nice and just happy to have a chat. Sometimes that’s more important,” Max said.

Each volunteer is motivated for different reasons but they share a passion for offering a helping hand and kind words to others in the community.

Their work begins about 4.45pm when the group converge on Vinnie’s in Mowbray.

One of the four team members rostered on brings the soup – tonight it is pumpkin and sweet potato – and the stocking of the van begins.

There is just an hour to make the salad sandwiches and ensure there is enough tea, coffee, fruit and juice for tonight’s trip.

Also on the menu is a modest number of lamingtons and a few slices of cake.

For the first six months of 2017 the Vinnies Van service in Launceston offered support more than 750 times.

While the most common age group is 19 to 40-year-olds, team manager Wendy Harper said the demographic can vary from young families to the elderly.

“It really does depend on the weather but we get anywhere between 10 and 15 people here at the mall and probably about the same at Ravenswood but it is a bit up and down,” she said.

“Some who do access it at Ravenswood are families just needing a bit extra which is a bit different to what we see at the mall.”
There are a number of ‘regulars’, like Max, who often access the service to plan ahead.

“Quite often you’ll hear them say that they’ll put it away for breakfast or something else, we tend to probably see the older ones here at the mall and they are generally a lot younger at Ravenswood.”

“They’re all nice and just happy to have a chat. Sometimes that’s more important,” says Max*.

Ms Harper said it was common to bump into people who accessed the van outside of service times and it was always a joy to stop when you recognised someone to hello.

“Sometimes it’s just about giving them something warm and an ear,” she said.

“Some of them will come just for the chat, for some of the regulars it’s an opportunity once you have spoken with them to decide whether you can offer services through the regional offices … especially someone that is new who turns up here, it’s an opportunity to find out about their situation.

“Sometimes they don’t want to share and that’s fine but there are some brochures and they can sometimes go to the regional office to get further assistance.”

Making sure the service was accessible and filling a gap was key when the Vinnie’s Van first began in late 2015.

Along with the hot soup and company, the van also holds a supply of beanies, scarves and jumpers.

Offering items like this is even more critical in the colder months Ms Harper said.

Originally the Vinnie’s Van only operated on Saturday nights and with a later meal service already offered by another provider on the weekends the van is out in the early evening

“We’ve now go to the point where the service has been around enough and we have got enough of a volunteer base that we are starting to look for another stop,” Ms Harper said,

“Whether it be an extra night or another extra stop for one of these [weekend] nights.”

The teams work in groups of four on a rotating roster which lasts for about six weeks.

Anyone can volunteer but there is a little bit of process to get though according to Ms Harper.

“Anyone is welcome to have a go at it. We did a bit of a campaign a few months after we started to source some volunteers and it was really good,” she said.

“We started off with just a few ... people are quite passionate about it, some are [St Vincent de Paul] conference members, some are just people in the community that have just put their hand up.”

The overall community response to having the Vinnie’s Van around has been overwhelmingly positve.

Ms Harper encouraged anyone interested in the service to feel free to stop and have a chat with the volunteers.

“Sometimes people will just be walking past and give a donation to the van ... anyone can have a cup of coffee,” she said.

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