Julie Theakston is the Manager of the Mareeba Community Centre Inc. Mareeba is a rural town in Far North Queensland, about an hour’s drive west of Cairns. The community is used to natural disasters, but the COVID-19 virus is a different ball game.
“We are used to cyclones up here. They tend to last only a short time. COVID-19 is more a focus on people and is over a longer period. It’s a different way of managing a crisis,” she explains.
During the first few weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, Julie’s team contacted QCOSS about working together to create a COVID-19 household checklist for clients.
There were many checklists for other disasters like cyclones, fires and floods, but not much information specifically about what people may need to think about during isolation. QCOSS worked with the centre to create the COVID-19 Household Checklist.
“Kim dropped it off all the libraries and doctors’ surgeries. It is now part of our client packs too.
“The doctors have it on their front door.”
Although this is new for the community, Julie is very grateful that the community centre decided to make the switch three years ago to computerised systems, as it has made the COVID-19 epidemic much easier to deal with.
“It was easier than I thought it could be. We were already set up in terms of our server, and client database is already online so it has made it quite easy to work from home.
“We were already set up on communication design and have video chats every morning.”
However, there have been some differences in service delivery.
“We are learning as we go. If we set something up and it’s a little too cumbersome, we change it.
“We just take it as it comes. Otherwise, it hasn’t been as difficult as it could have been. We already had the resources in terms of laptops and resources set up online – that has been the biggest difference.”
Although the centre is physically closed, Julie says the demand for some of their services, like No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS), has increased, and they are providing new services to the community, such as shopping for people, emotional and social support, and teaching people, particularly the elderly, how to use the internet so they can order what they need online.
Julie says it is just a new way of working.
“We are still able to do everything. Instead of physically giving gift cards, we email through digital gift cards. We have appointments, like NILS, over the phone and people send through photos of documents,” she explains.
“We are still printing documents for people. People used to come in and use the computer and print the documents they need. Now they email it to us, and we print it off and then they pick it up.
“The reality is most people understand – everything is being done differently everywhere so they are accepting of that.”