Charcoal Lane, Mission Australia’s Fitzroy-based enterprise restaurant, is ensuring mob has access to nutritional meals during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The restaurant is providing ready-made meals to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through relationships with a number of organisations and councils, including:

  • Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS)
  • Aboriginal Community Elders Services (ACES)
  • Darebin City Council
  • Yarra City Council’s Aboriginal Support Network
  • cohealth’s Billabong BBQ Program
  • Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV)
  • Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Co-operative (MAYSAR).

Mission Australia’s Manager of Social Enterprise Programs, Tony Crellin, said Charcoal Lane has had to adapt as a social enterprise during COVID-19 restrictions.

“As a social enterprise Charcoal Lane relies on revenue generated from our restaurant. When it was mandated that restaurants close their dine-in options, we needed to address how we sustain this program that employs, trains and educates up to 30 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people annually,” Crellin said.

“The number one concern raised by our trainees in this time was concern for Elders.

“In response, we consulted with local Aboriginal Elders and leaders and agreed if Mission Australia repurposed the kitchens to produce at cost nutritious meals, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service would manage and mobilise support to distribute the meals to local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members who were left vulnerable by the COVID-19 lockdown measures.”

Uncle Dave Arden and Michael Graham Jr. from VAHS delivering meals in Darebin. Photo supplied by Mission Australia.

Crellin said the pre-existing relationships that VAHS, ACES and Yarra City Council’s Aboriginal Support Network had with local community along with the knowledge of AHV and MAYSAR enabled those struggling, who may not have reached out for help, to have access to support.

Prepared at the restaurant, the meals are distributed once a week through the Billabong BBQ program in Yarra, and daily by the VAHS to the Darebin area and ACES network.

“When we arrive with the meals, it is an opportunity for us to connect people to the right health services or encourage them to look after their health by following current health guidelines and take actions such as getting a flu shot,” said VAHS CEO, Michael Graham.

“Providing them with a nutritious meal is an important part of ensuring those most at risk are best looked after.”

“It’s not just about delivering the meals, but the conversations that happens. Sometimes when we deliver the meals, we feel as though we are being the ‘Message Stick’ between families, sharing news or just providing someone to talk to and continuing to build a sense of connection.

“In some ways what we are doing alongside Charcoal Lane and Council is not new. For many Aboriginal people, looking out for each other and our community and being resilient when challenging times hit are important values.”

Profit made from this program along with Charcoal Lane’s updated takeaway menu will enable the social enterprise to remain open and allow staff to continue supporting young trainees.

By Rachael Knowles