Behind the charity effort to help COVID cases in Sydney hotspots – Sydney Morning Herald

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Every day, Canterbury-Bankstown councillor Bilal El-Hayek gets in the car with Amer Yassine, a volunteer with Lighthouse Community Support, and drives around south-west Sydney delivering hampers of food and hygiene products to households. Some families might be isolating, some have COVID-19, and others are struggling financially.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they add cooked meals made by AFL club, the GWS Giants, to their boot; on Wednesdays and Fridays, it’s fresh food from Meals on Wheels. They accompany their deliveries with a knock on the door, to make sure people are all right and ask if they need anything.
It’s grassroots community groups like these that are ensuring families remain fed and supported as the Delta outbreak seeps into households in south-west and western Sydney, and the health system struggles to keep up with infections.
Bilal El-Hayek takes a phone call outside a Greenacre home while Aner Yassine delivers food to a household of 10.Credit:Kate Geraghty
The family groups they deliver to are often large, English may be their second language, or the parents are facing financial hardship. Hundreds of these households are suffering from COVID-19 too.
Mr El-Hayek, 33, also works for the PCYC while Mr Yassine, 42, has eight children at home and hasn’t been able to operate his overseas travel agency business for 18 months. Instead, he’s volunteering every day.
Mr El-Hayek said they aren’t governed by any particular schedule. “[It’s] mostly during the day, but whenever there’s a request we make sure we get there to ensure no-one is sleeping hungry,” he said. “It’s not the community’s job, but we do it anyway.”
The night before the Herald joined Mr El-Hayek on his hamper drops, he received a text from a woman saying her friend and her husband had tested positive to COVID-19. The text said the couple were isolating in their garage to avoid infecting their kids. “No one from health is responding,” it read. “Can you help?”
Mr El-Hayek said he receives messages like this all the time: “It’s a pretty tough place to be at the moment”.
Darlene Tangatapoto has four children of her own and three foster children. “Thank you, now I don’t have to make dinner for the kids today” she says to Mr El-Hayek and Mr Yassine as they leave. Credit:Kate Geraghty
In the morning the pair drop hampers and hot food to families who have COVID-19, as well as households struggling without work during lockdown. They include Darlene Tangatapoto’s in Greenacre, where there are seven mouths to feed, including three foster children.
The boxes are donated by dozens of charities. Some are made by Lighthouse itself, others come from community groups including Addison Road or larger organisations like OzHarvest. Human Appeal Australia, led by Amin El-Bureeny, is also packing hampers every day. He said they “receive donations and translate it into bags of goodness for those in need”.
Human Appeal Australia volunteers and university students Rokaya Breis (left) and Maysa Amine (right) pack hampers in Lakemba.Credit:Kate Geraghty
When the Herald called Gandhi Sindyan, the founder of Lighthouse Community Support, he was driving 150 meals to nurses at Westmead Hospital. The boot of his van is stocked with heaters, nappies, electric blankets, baby formula and vegetables – just so he’s prepared.
“Our objective is not just meals; we try to make sure we look holistically at our families and essentials that help them,” he said. On the weekend he delivered to a 17-year-old boy with COVID-19 in Blacktown who had diabetes but no insulin. The night before, he spent time on the phone with a 19-year-old girl with the disease, who has elderly parents and confessed how scared she was.
“You’re not going to open that door, that window – but you are letting them know you genuinely care. Obviously, when there’s this many cases it’s hard to stay on top of everybody. So we come in and do what we do,” Mr Sindyan said. “We have an amazing community where a lot of people want to give behind the scenes, just your average Fatima or average Mary.”
Chief executive of the Marrickville-based Addison Road Community Organisation, Rosanna Barbero, said grassroots organisations like these were essential. “Otherwise you just get a package. And you feel like a problem,” she said.
“They’re able to do more than just a drop-off of food – they can say: ‘hi aunty, hi uncle, how’s it going?’ – and that’s priceless. They know who’s struggling with home schooling, with health, with debts, with household debt and rental arrears.
“[Grassroots organisations] are the mules, the workhorses – we actually engage with the humans that receive it. The big organisations get all the money, and so they should, but there should also be money going to these smaller on the ground companies that are the distributors.”
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