‘Initially I was in mourning when we decided to pause the Blessing Box. It’s something that we spontaneously just started but now I see how much it works and how many people it’s helping. I’m scared for people who need it, but I’ve learnt from the Blessing Box that things work out.  I just have to trust what happens.

‘A year ago, when we started, we had more donors than people taking from it. It was something nice and everyone really connected with it. On Day 1 we had whatever was in our pantry which was nothing really. Five days later I had to put more shelves in because it was overflowing with donations. At that time, the Blessing Box would be full for four days.

‘When JobKeeper was announced but hadn’t kicked in yet, people had been out of a job for about three months, and they were on their last legs. At that time, we saw a high influx of people needing food. It became 24 hours’ turnaround until the shelves would be cleared. A month later – around May or June last year, the turnaround become about half a day. A year later we’re looking at around a 20–30-minute turnaround. If it’s full up from some of our amazing donors, every bit of it will go within about two hours.

‘I think people who are taking now are mostly immigrants and a lot of elderly – that’s heartbreaking; seeing a frail person taking from there. Even prior to COVID, the pension is not enough to live off. They’re struggling – pensioners use the Blessing Box as a top up in between payments. It’s a systemic problem. It’s sad – these people have given so much to life and this world – they shouldn’t be living this way.

‘The Blessing Box is really just a conduit – it’s an empty cupboard at the end of the day. What has come of it – which I think is what the community sees – is the energy that comes from it.

‘Sunday 30th May will be the last day of the Blessing Box. On Monday we’ll take it down and it will go into storage while we try to find a new home for it.  I hope when it finds a new home, that it will be sustainable throughout the years and I’m hoping that even more of these will pop up in suburbs. This is a proof of concept that this works. I wonder if the world, or this community, or Council think that this is the norm and see how this could work on a long-term basis.’

‘I was in the bushfires on New Year’s Eve down in Batemans Bay. After the fire went through, we ended up in an evacuation centre. I found myself in a situation where I had no control over what was happening to me, it wasn’t safe for me to return to where I’d been, and I couldn’t leave. Immediately after the danger had passed there were some basic services that came in to ensure we had food, water and accommodation – even if it was the floor of the town library which turned out to be one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had after that day!

‘When the pandemic hit, I started to see what was happening in hospitality with so many people losing their jobs one by one overnight.

‘I had just closed my restaurant late last year so here I was with this premises, and I thought, there is something I can do here – let me see if I can raise some money and get some people to help me.

‘For me, it’s kind of been this reverse experience. I thought I can provide part of what I received during the bushfire crisis in this scenario by just using what I have here and what other people will support me with to do this.

‘We’re doing free food every Friday for anyone who needs it. There are many industries where people have lost work in a short space of time – hospitality, retail, travel, education – there are so many sectors that are affected. We have beautiful volunteers who prepare and serve the food and we have an incredible amount of support from suppliers.

‘There is this whole interesting idea of charity versus community. What we see here is community coming together to share the abundance that exists within that community. It’s interesting because I think people might not feel like they can take charity or they qualify for it… but everyone at a time like this, and actually always, should be able to tap in to the resources of their community to help them when they need it. That is like the ultimate equation of abundance – there is always enough.’

For more information:

https://hearthandsoul.com.au/

‘We met this gorgeous young man – he was from overseas. He told us he came last night and took lentils from the box. He then asked if he could take more and we said, “Of course!”

‘He told us he literally had no food at home. I didn’t realise that – if I saw him in any other setting I would not have guessed.

‘We’ve created the Newtown Blessing Box – a community street pantry where people can leave pantry items or even toiletry items, for whoever is in need. If they can give, they can give, and whoever needs it, they’re more than welcome to help themselves to as much as they like.

‘Creating the Newtown Blessing Box has made a massive impact to my own personal mental health. I own a business with my partner. The business has slowed down so instead of only focusing on that, we decided to look around at the world and see what else is going on. We saw asylum seekers making their way to the Asylum Seekers Centre and they mustn’t have known the centre was closed. They were going there for food and we realised they would have nothing.

‘Coming out everyday to check on the box, make it neat and presentable and to read the notes that people leave, it’s exciting to look forward to. Everyday someone leaves a note and there is something new. We get really excited and wonder who each item is from. We see our neighbours do a dash and put something in. Those interactions are really important and beautiful and heart warming and I now know my neighbours. It’s really made a positive impact on our mental health.’

Visit the Newtown Blessing Box on the corner of Bedford and Station Streets in Newtown. Give what you can and take what you need.

‘The big change for me was that I lost my dad. It was over two years ago. He was a doctor and he’d been in the same community for over 30 years. He did quite well for himself and he had a lot of stuff and all the things that come with that.

‘But when it was all said and done, the thing that made the biggest impact on me was they had a big memorial for him and they had the biggest hall in our small suburb in Newcastle. I turned up and there were just crowds of people in the streets out the front who couldn’t fit inside.

‘I realised that that’s the only thing you’ve got is the impact you’ve had on other people’s lives. It’s not about all the money that you earned and all those successes and that was just a huge change for me. From that day, I went down this path.

‘Looking at what I’m seeing today shows to me that there is definitely the interest out there for people to be able to come together for many different reasons to express themselves. I just like to bring a little bit of happiness to people’s lives in some way, help the community and be part of it. I hope that then creates a domino effect of people helping each other. Something I’ve always lived by is to be the change in the world you want to see.’

COMMUNE founder, Sam Ali.