The Food Box Project

The Food Box Project was started by Rachel Lafain for Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) holders who had lost jobs due to COVID-19. Catherine Russell of Circle 124 and Libby Hogarth, Circle 92, then collaborated to co-ordinate an expansion of this project. Catherine gathered the names of Bridging Visa holders in need of help, plus some on SHEVs and Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). Free food was provided by Pathways 2nd Bite in Modbury, and other suppliers, and Rachel and Libby purchased additional necessities. By mid April, boxes of food, cleaning products and pharmaceutical items were being delivered by a team of 55 volunteers to 150 people across 63 houses.

When Rachel started a new circle to provide other services, and Libby resumed her migration agency business, co-ordination was continued by Catherine. Meanwhile, funds flowed in from private donors, and grants were gained from the Australian Red Cross, Grants SA and four other trusts. We, the management committee of COFA, members of the Circles, and the benefiting asylum seekers and refugees are deeply grateful for this generosity.

From the beginning of July Red Cross (using funds from the Federal Grant they received to assist people on Temporary Visas that had not been provided any Centrelink support during COVID-19) and the $10,000 we received from Grants SA, have reimbursed all the project’s food and essential expenses.

Going forward the good news is that a number of the food recipients are beginning to regain some level of employment, and it is hoped that their need for food aid will soon diminish. Overall, the project has been a remarkable success.

Willunga Circle of Friends 2020 Appeal

We would prefer to be seeing and talking to you but, due to COVID restrictions, our fund raising has been curtailed. As a result our funds have diminished. However the needs of asylum seekers and refugees have dramatically increased due to lack of government support.

We have been responding to urgent requests for food parcels, rent, warm clothes, blankets, quilts, heaters, driving licenses and phone plans.
Usually we raise $5,000 at our Quiz Nights, $3,500 at our Film Nights, and over $150 each week at our Shoe Shine. Thank you for your past contributions.

Please help us to continue supporting asylum seekers and refugees by donating what you would have spent at our previous fund raisers before 31 October 2020.

Click here to donate now.

Notes from the COFA Annual General Meeting, 14 August 2020

Annual general meetings are commonly thought to be routine and boring, but not this one, following such an extraordinary year.

Monica O’Wheel, Chair, and Bruce Whyatt, Treasurer, in their annual reports, focused on the pandemic, its impact on refugees and asylum seekers, and the response of COFA and its circles.

When COVID-19 hit Adelaide, the reaction was fast and generous, with Circles stepping up to support asylum seekers and refugees without income after they lost their jobs. They contacted people on Bridging Visas, raised money, distributed food and paid rent.” – Monica, COFA Committee Chair

With the advent of the Corona virus, many refugees have lost their jobs and are not receiving any government support. Their situation has become dire and, for many, their only means of survival is from charities such as COFA. When there is a desperate need on the part of people in our community, others respond with amazing generosity. Donations and grants rose from $91,000 in 2018 increasing to $204,000 in 2019, to $324,000 in FY 2020. This was also highlighted in the recent ABC radio and TV exposure. COFA received $23,000 in donations through the website in the following two weeks.” – Bruce, COFA Committee Treasurer

So how can a charity, operated purely by volunteers, and without money up its sleeve, respond so strongly and quickly? Two reasons stand out. First, COFA’s structure of affiliated member Circles have a flexibility that gives our organisation the agility to respond quickly when there is a new situation, and to meet the diverse range of needs asylum seekers and refugees. We have 200 active volunteers and the number of active circles has increased to 25, with 6 new ones being formed over the last few months to meet new needs arising from impacts of the pandemic. Over 400 individuals and 120 families were supported by circles over the last year. Second, the members of our Circles show again and again, and especially through the achievements of the last few months, extraordinary compassion, commitment, resourcefulness, skills and energy, in service of the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees. – Remarks of Monica and Bruce regarding the work of the circles

COVID-19 and its effects are in the front of our minds, yet the heartlessness and cruelty of present policies remain unchanged. So actions by COFA to alleviate the hardship and suffering of asylum seekers and refugees continue to be needed. There are many wonderful ways each active Circle has worked to meet the needs of the people they assist and these could fill a book. In upcoming news posts we will highlight just two of these: the largest project that the Circles of Friends Australia has ever embarked upon, the Food Box Project; and the project to support refugee student scholarship holders at the University of Adelaide. Stay tuned.

New ‘Rent Relief Circle’ supporting Refugees and Asylum Seekers without jobs due to Covid-19 restrictions

Recently Elham who is living in Adelaide on a Bridging Visa was interviewed on ABC radio. She spoke movingly on the physical, emotional, educational and social effects Covid-19 induced poverty has had on her family. Elham and her husband have work rights but with the Covid-19 shutdown they no longer have any work and were not eligible for Centrelink support and so could not pay their rent and other bills.

We are deeply grateful to to everyone who so generously responded to Elham’s interview. To date over 90 donors responded generating over $23, 000 for to assist with rent, food, utilities and other essentials for Refugees and Asylum Seekers who are not receiving any support from the Government.

We, in the Rent Relief Circle (Circle 3) of Circle of Friends Australia, are paying rent for Elham and other people living in South Australia including. In our first month we have made:

  • Fortnightly payments for 5 families
  • Weekly payments for 3 people in rooms in shared houses
  • Four one-off payments for rent arrears

The donations received so far will enable us to go on for maybe another month or so as we have spent $9,200 so far. In the longer term we hope that other Government funded services will be able to take over some payments, and that some people we are assisting will get work again soon. However, in these uncertain times with NGO’s pushed to the their limits, we anticipate that more people will get referred to us for assistance.

It is the community response that allows us to distribute this money enabling people to stay in their homes so thank you. If you would like to contribute to our Covid-19 response work you can donate via our secure DonateNow page or contact us for our bank details.

Rapid Response for Refugees August Update

“Aunty” time pre Covid  -19

Thanks to our donors, the Rapid Response (Circle 110) team has continued to “Make things happen” over these challenging winter months.

Our Circle received substantial financial donations for which we are truly grateful. They created capacity to supplement pre-loved blankets, quilts, throws and warm clothes donated, with new items tailored for each person. Singles and families could be warm, properly fed and experience the welcome and care that is around them but often not transparent. We were also given two cost efficient heaters and bought a further three for people in especially challenging situations. Even more satisfying was, after advice from a “wood man,” buying a new axe, log splitter and chopper for a family given a load of wood to use in their combustion heater but no way to cut it. Instruction in safe use of these implements and how to set a fire was also provided.

Of necessity, home visits increased for families and individuals in desperate need but reliant on public transport. We could not imagine transporting bedding and bags of clothes by bus, let alone a “high rise” twin pusher with a toddler stand and a baby pouch for mum to carry the newborn. No car in that house and 6 children aged 5 and under. Memorable connections were made during these visits and “You’re welcome,” “Happy to share,” “You deserve this,” were frequently repeated phrases.

Short term help with back rent and Utility Bills from “Welcoming Australia for some clients, together with payments from the “Rent Relief During Covid-19” Circle 3 eased the pressure on our Circle. This enabled more flexibility and confidence about other responses. We paid for a double bed and mattress to be relocated, purchase and delivery of a small fridge, a cheap, new smart TV and we ventured into the world of computers! Normally this is the work of St Ignatius Refugee Support Group, but their funds are committed until mid-2021.

Second-hand computers proved impossible to source. Consequently, as of Friday 21 August, 2 mature age students and a family of 6 have new Notebooks, set up so they can more easily continue their studies in these challenging times. Acknowledgement and thanks to Alex Button from “I.T. No Go” who guided us through the “what’s best” maze, donating his time.

Our financial and personal commitment to those we have know for a long time has also continued. The young woman from Manus Island who was housed in the outer southern suburbs of Adelaide has relocated to a more modern home 60 km away. Many people previously on Manus live nearby. Her daughter is now two years old and the child’s father remains in the Adelaide immigration Transit Accommodation Centre at Kilburn. He has been in transition since just before her 1st birthday – she is now two and a half. There has been no contact since the Covid-19 lockdown.

For those who know Circle history, Circle 3 was reactivated with a different focus following the interview Justice for Refugees SA arranged with Pete Malinauskas on ABC 891 some weeks ago. A woman with a Bridging Visa with work rights – but no longer any work for her or her husband – spoke movingly on the physical, emotional, educational and social effects Covid-19 induced poverty has had on her family. Many listeners asked where to donate and other Organisations which were interviewed nominated COFA to receive funds. Circles’ flexibility and the fact that 99% of donations go directly to refugees and asylum seekers, together with our endeavours to support the work of professional Organisations, filling gaps and complementing for over 18 years now, probably influenced this decision.

Again, sincere thanks to donors and every amount given, large or small, does matter. Once again, thanks and acknowledgement to the Blackwood/Hills and Willunga Circles of Friends. They have worked magic in this challenging year to continue supporting people in great need through this Rapid Response Circle.

Tricia, Denise & Leeanne

Circle 110 Team and Co-Convenors