The power of partnerships

A recently completed project in Melbourne, Vic, funded partly by a district grant from D9810, highlights the power to do good in the world through partnerships across Rotary districts and with other organisations.

The Tiny-Site Backpacks 4 VIC Kids project had its genesis when two Rotarians, one from the Rotary Club of Rowville Lysterfield (D9810) and the other from the Rotary Club of Port Phillip (D9800), were helping at a packing day for Backpacks 4 VIC Kids (B4VK) in 2021. B4VK, founded in 2014, is a registered charity providing aid to displaced children in the form of My Essentials (ME) backpacks.

The backpacks are age and gender appropriate and contain items such as pyjamas, clothing, toiletries, a torch, and a comfort item such as a teddy or other toy. These items are necessary when children are taken out of an unsafe environment at short notice and put into out-of-home care, often by police or child welfare personnel, as the children generally have no opportunity to gather any belongings.

The provision of these items means carers are not put under pressure to find items suitable for their young charges and often means that sibling groups are able to be kept together. Most importantly, having some personal belongings provides great comfort to children who are suffering the grief and anxiety of being displaced.

B4VK has grown enormously, starting in the home of the founder Sally Beard, and now located in a factory in Cranbourne. Over this time, the need for such support has skyrocketed. At the time of the inception of B4VK, in Australia there were around 12,000 children taken into out-of-home care every year. In recent years, there have been up to 12,500 children taken into out-of-home care in a three-month period.

PICTURED LEFT: Backpacks ready for collection at the newly refurbished container. RIGHT: Rotary Club of Rowville Lysterfield members Ian Vesey, left, President Nominee Bob Morris and Past President Alan Lunghusen, International Chair for Rowville Lysterfield and RAWCS Chair for D9810.

The service provided by B4VK is always evolving, with a recent thrust to provide access to the ME packs in various geographical locations to ensure the packs can be accessed in the timeliest way. From this imperative arose the idea of Tiny-Sites, spread across urban and rural Victoria, many in refurbished containers. This would provide 24-hour access for police or social welfare agents to collect backpacks.

Enter Rotary. A second-hand container, purchased by B4VK, was delivered to a convenient location where a group of Rowville Lysterfield Rotarians set to work.

Over many months the container was insulated, lined, flooring, solar lights and solar panels installed, a door hatch cut and door installed, plus shelving was built. A submission to Bunnings Scoresby resulted in a large discount for timber and other supplies, which helped stretch the $9,000 grant money ($4,500 from District 9810 and $4,500 from the Rotary Club of Rowville Lysterfield). When the interior was finished, the container was moved to the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT) at Webb Dock, where it will remain. This arrangement was facilitated by the CEO of VICT as part of its organisational goal to support welfare services to address the needs of disadvantaged sectors within the community.

The exterior of the container now became the focus of the refurbishment. The layer of rust had to be scraped off, a coating of anti-rust applied and multiple layers of paint applied, with the paint donated by Haymes paints. All of this labour took many, many hours. In addition, to be able to enter Webb Dock all the workers had to undergo a rigorous induction program on workplace safety and check in through security on each visit.

The final step to enable the Tiny-Site to be activated fell to the Rotary Club of Port Phillip. This club provided the funds to B4VK to equip the container with 76 ME packs, covering the full range of ages from birth to 17 years for both genders.

The event to mark the activation of the Tiny-Site at Webb Dock was very exciting and supported by representatives from each of the Rotary clubs, Bunnings Scoresby, the VICT CEO and members of the board of Backpacks 4 VIC Kids. In a moving speech, CEO Sally Beard stressed how significant the provision of the backpacks can be to young children in crisis. The backpacks become the personal possession of the child and can travel with them for years, becoming a very valued and comforting symbol that someone cares.

For the Rotarians involved, the activation of the Tiny-Site was a very satisfying outcome after several years of planning, many hours of hard work and extensive negotiations to bring in external partners to the project.

A powerful example of an excellent hands-on project!