Shelterbags for the homeless in South Australia

By Richard Tucker
Rotary Club of Gawler Light, SA

For the past year and a half, the Rotary Club of Gawler Light, SA, has been helping provide for the needs of homeless persons sleeping rough in their community through the distribution of Shelterbags. The club has become part of a wider alliance of community organisations and outreach agencies called the Red Room Project, tackling homelessness at all levels.

Following the success of its Shelterbag pilot project, the Rotary Club of Gawler Light is now expanding its distribution efforts across South Australia through Rotary clubs in District 9510.

Shelterbags are a lightweight, waterproof swag with a thin mattress and lined hood, manufactured by Sheltersuit South Africa Foundation. They were initially assessed by the Rotary Club of Terrigal, NSW, as being the most adaptable and cost-effective swag available to suit homeless persons sleeping rough in Australia, and were featured in the October 2021 edition of Rotary Down Under.

PICTURED: Jim Cundy, of the Rotary Club of Murray Bridge, took part in the Shelterbag distribution day on April 28.

Since then, the Rotary Club of Terrigal has been instrumental in the importation of several container loads and still regards them highly, despite the rising cost of shipping.

The Rotary Club of Gawler Light first sought interest from other Rotary clubs in District 9510 at the May 2023 Rotary Expo in Adelaide. Following this, a program of well received presentations were given at numerous Rotary club meetings. These were not only pitched to club members, but also to invited representatives from local community organisations to hear first-hand how they could be involved in a distribution network.

Fast forward to April 2024. Another container of 900 bags arrived in Australia and was being shared between NSW, Victoria and South Australia. What at first seemed like an unachievable goal for one club to fund Shelterbags by the container load had become possible through state and partner Rotary club collaborations, with the aid of a district grant.

Currently, 21 partner Rotary clubs have committed to supporting the distribution of 350 Shelterbags through their local outreach agencies across District 9510 this winter.

As well as providing for the needs of homeless persons, the Rotary Club of Gawler Light sees this project as another opportunity for Rotary clubs to become better engaged with the needs of their local communities and the organisations that serve them. They have also promoted the benefits seen in action through the collaborative framework of Gawler’s wider Red Room Project.

Local statistics have shown that despite an ongoing national trend, the number of persons sleeping rough in Gawler at any one time has decreased.

PICTURE: Members of the Rotary Club of Gawler Light’s dedicated Shelterbag Committee came together in April to brand Shelterbags with the District 9510 logo. Pictured at the RARE central warehouse in Edinburgh, SA, are club President Darryl Matthews, left, Steve McLachlan, Jenny Leadbeater and Ian Chase.

As the Rotary Club of Gawler Light evaluates the effectiveness of their distribution network over the coming winter months, they will be working towards 2025 and eagerly recruiting more partner clubs to help alleviate the effects of homelessness in South Australia.

They will also be seeking greater funding opportunities to facilitate a more sustainable future for the project as it expands.

For more information, visit Donations for Shelterbags for the Homeless Sleeping Rough in South Australia can be made at

MAIN PICTURE: President of the Rotary Club of Strathalbyn Vivienne Goodenough, left, and President of the Rotary Club of Gawler Light Darryl Matthews at the Shelterbag distribution day on April 28.