September 12 - 18, 2021: Issue 510


Sarah Morris: Acts Of Kindness Community Outreach – AOK

AOK temporary pop up at Newport, NSW

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Born and bred Mona Vale lady Sarah Morris is the co-founder with Paul Shiel of a local collective of people involved in Acts Of Kindness Community Outreach – AOK, an initiative that’s spreading across Australia to ensure those in need during current challenges have someone to look out for them and can experience a little kindness despite being in isolation.

We are an Outreach Program here to support the Whole community! We are here for everyone!

We need to support each other more now than ever! If you are in need of support in anyway please don't be shy, Reach Out! We are here for YOU!

This week a few insights from Sarah. 

When did Acts Of Kindness Community Outreach – AOK start?

Paul Shiel and I started a year ago this week during the COVID lockdown, so we’re marking our one year anniversary.

What prompted this and what are the objectives?

We met in the city, we were both doing food services. Paul has been in the giving services for a long long time and has been going down to Woolloomooloo for the last two years distributing food there.

During the Covid lockdown a lot of the bigger charities stopped coming at the beginning. So there was gap there on Wednesday nights where people were getting no food.

We started doing 20 meals every Wednesday night there and we’re now doing 180 to 20 meals every Wednesday night, as well as 200 deserts, and 200 drinks.

Where is the food being prepared?

The way that we work is community based, we’re a grass roots group at this stage, so all the meals are cooked by community members in their homes. There is currently around 50 people doing this for others.

We’re throughout Victoria and there’s some in Queensland and our team here. 

Where are you distributing food to?

At present we’re doing two initiatives. We have the food service we’re doing at Woolloomooloo for the homeless. That is where our cooked food goes as well as supplies of long life items and canned goods. 

We’ve also just opened a pantry at Newport for the community. All of those supplies were in my house and we have had others contributing as well.

The people who own the premises offered us the space for storage and to work out of. 

This has provided the opportunity to see what the community needs. I know that there are a lot of homeless people here too and I know that there are a lot of people who are experiencing what is termed ‘Covid poverty’ at the moment as well.

There is a poverty occurring on the northern beaches at the moment that people haven’t seen before – they have a million dollar house, but you can’t eat your walls. You can’t eat your car and there’s no pint in selling it as you’re not going to get any money as so many are in the same boat. 

At the moment people just need a little bit of kindness, just to get through, and when they’re back on their feet they could do the same for someone else.

How can people support you?

We’re doing pantry and long life donations at the store at Newport and we’re happy to collect them too as we’re throughout Sydney. Paul is based in Dulwich Hill, so they do that side, but on the northern beaches I’m happy to pick up any items as well.

We also do blankets as well and brand new clothing. There’s another group we team up with called ‘Thread Together’ who focus on providing everything brand new to people who need these items. This allows us to go online and order what we need for those we’re helping.

We’re also always looking for things like Woolworths vouchers as these are great to post out to people who can’t get out of their homes at present. Money is always good too as that helps to provide other items.

How do people get these items to you?

Our store in Newport is open 4 days a week for a couple of hours each day:

Otherwise they can just contact us via Facebook, Instagram or email and we can organise it – we have a heap of earth angels around who can go and pick items up if they can’t get out of their homes or can’t get to us at Newport.

What you’re providing has gone up 100% in one year?

It went up 100% within six weeks of starting. We went from being able to provide 20 meals to providing between 180 and 200 meals each week and we’ve maintained that for a year.

Why is it important at present to have Acts Of Kindness Community Outreach – AOK?

People are sad, people are scared, there’s a lot of confusion at the moment, and fear and confusion make people say and do things that they normally wouldn’t. I’m just trying to cut through that.

People often confuse kindness with emotion – it’s not. You don’t even have to like someone to be kind to them. If someone needs a helping hand you just do it if you can.

So it’s about exercising your compassion, a bone we all have?

It is, it is – this is a muscle that’s just not stretched enough or often enough. I fill blessing boxes and pantries in the inner west; these are just on the side of the road and open 24/7 for anyone to just come and grab what they need. They’re like the next-door-neighbour that you can’t talk to at present but whom you could get a cup of sugar off when you ran short. You can leave what you can and take what you need.

I’ve been doing this at Newport too – just free food that we’ve rescued from supermarkets that’s there for people.

The kids get it; they really do. They come up and go ‘wow’ and ‘oh my gosh’ and ‘thank you’ – and they definitely pay it forward by a smile. 

When the adults come up to the table they’re ‘oh no, no – somebody needs it more than me’. 

I say to them, ‘there’s always somebody who is going to need it more than you but that’s not what it’s about today.  This is just about community kindness – if you’d like an apple, please have one.

Last week you had a bucket of flowers out and were encouraging everyone to take one and have a nice scent, weren’t you?

Yes; but that’s me – I was the kid that used to go up to a little old lady’s houses and pick her her own flowers and then give them to her. (laughs) We’d talk for hours about anything.

I think people have become unused to being given things from strangers, or even being told that they’re loved by a stranger.

How did you get into doing this Sarah?

I’ve done a bit of everything – I’m a Cook, a Baker, I’ve done Debt Collection but have never had a full career but have always been focussed in on work that allows me to help people. 

That and food waste – food waste is massive!

We’ve been rescuing food from a local supermarket for just under a year. A few weekends back my husband and I got a call to go up to Belrose when they had their Covid lockout and in that weekend we rescued over 50 thousand dollars worth of food and redirected it out west to the red zone. 

It was massive – and that was just two humans going for it to get it where it was needed.

That’s huge; were you exhausted after doing that?

No; we were on a high – it was so full on to get it done.

Why have you based the this side of Sydney Acts Of Kindness Community Outreach – AOK at Newport?

I’m from here, I’ve grown up in Moan Vale, my parents are still living on Mona Vale headland. The guys who own the store I’ve known all my life. They went out of business just before the lockdown and so they can’t lease it right now so they offered that space as I couldn’t even see the floor because of all the stuff I was storing there. My poor children were walking around in what looked like a supermarket – it was mad.

I don’t even turn the lights on while here so there’s no overheads.

What else can they do every day to spread the kindness?

I want the northern beaches people to start looking after each other again, to start seeing each other. 

There’s a block up Mosman – one lady contacted me last week because she was after some food for her neighbours. 

I then found out the whole block had no food; 12 units, 18 adults and 5 kids. Some of those people went without any food at least two days a week.

Everyone thinks they shouldn’t speak up, there’s this ‘oh I’m struggling a bit but there’s somebody else that needs it’.

Last night down at service at Woolloomooloo there was a guy there I could see was an addict, he was drunk as well, but he had a home so he said no to all the food. He said ‘nah, nah, I can’t feed myself but these guys need it more than me’. 

Everyone does better with a hot meal inside them and a decent sleep. If that’s what you need, please, let yourself have that

What are you looking forward to once the stay-at-home safety rules are eased?

Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing more happy faces. Just more happiness will be great. To see and feel people happier because they have more access to things and more ability to do things will be great.

I know that sounds pretty simple – but all we’re trying to do is just help each other.

All this is being done my team - I’m the noisy loud one out front but there’s this great team. We get to be part of each others kindness.

To see that reignited in our community would be great - to be part of each others' kindness. I think we remember that it's ok to love each other and just keep doing that.

What is the ‘motto’ of Acts Of Kindness Community Outreach – AOK?

Acts Of Kindness Community Outreach 
"Sharing Community Kindness"

Sarah and Paul during the Wednesday Food Service in town.

Organiser Sarah Morris with husband Tom with a food hamper in time for Christmas from their Newport shop. Photo: Michael Mannington OAM, Community Photography