Deb Crompton is the Chief Executive Officer of Mt Gravatt Community Centre, which delivers a range of services to the community, including food parcels, support services, aged care and skills training.
Each year the Mt Gravatt Community Centre team puts together 6,000 food parcels for those in need.
But this year they have seen a spike in the number of international students in need of food relief, after many of them lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and had no access to income support from the government.
“There was a really noticeable jump in how many students needed help with food parcels,” Deb said.
“We’d have car loads of students coming in and they would be getting meals for all of their housemates who were really struggling financially.”
With hand-sanitiser and temperature checks on entry, Mt Gravatt Community Centre’s team of 30 staff were able to respond quickly to the coronavirus crisis to ensure they stayed open to deliver essential services to those in need.
Despite the challenges of COVID, the team managed to complete extensive renovations on Bernie’s Place, a house next to the centre, which features a spacious drop-in centre, accessible bathrooms, and showers and laundry facilities for the homeless community.
The renovated property also includes a commercial-grade kitchen, which will be used to train people in a Certificate II in Food preparation and to employ a chef and barista as part of the Housing Options Practical Employment (HOPE) program and Skilling Queenslanders for Work (SQW).
“We’ve always looked at what the needs of our community are and have adapted to that,” Deb said.
“I think we’ve been recognised over the years for how well we respond to our community’s evolving needs through our programs and how well we work with other organisations like YMCA and our local faith groups to refer other services to our clients.”
Deb said the pandemic has highlighted how crucial the community centre is, not only in delivering services, but in creating a welcoming space for those in need.
“Some people still think that homelessness only happens to people who’ve had a hard life, but it can happen to anyone,” Deb said.
“The truth is most of us are only six pay checks away from being homeless.”
Having to stay apart during COVID-19 has actually helped bring people closer together, according to Deb.
“In the past people would be sitting to wait for their food parcels and it would be like being at the waiting room at the doctor’s with no one talking to each other, but it’s been interesting to see more people chatting to each other and connecting,” Deb said.
“They’re seeing that it’s a safe space and we’re seeing more and more people engaging with our programs and coming back for community classes such as painting or other workshops.
“We also just had a fantastic celebration for Luminous in the Neighbourhood, where more than 50 people came along to celebrate the local multicultural community.”
Deb said the Mt Gravatt Community Centre team will continue to focus on a range of projects next year, including aged care, which is their biggest growth area following the centre’s approval as a provider of Home Care packages last year.
Other projects on the horizon for 2021 include developing a children’s playground and creating a youth space where anyone feels welcome to drop in.