As the cost-of-living crisis continues, bad news can dominate the news.

But even when times are tough, there are still good stories worth celebrating.

Matt’s Place community meals program is ensuring those in the community who are struggling, don’t have to do it alone.

In 2023, we served nearly 21,500 meals at Chelsea and Cheltenham and attendance jumped by 35 per cent from the previous year.

We handed out 756 hampers – a 25 per cent spike.

But what the statistics don’t show are the countless hours of conversations, points of connection, friendships forged, and tears shed by participants who finally feel listened to and supported.

All this is possible thanks to the incredible team of volunteers who contributed over 14,000 hours of their time – an increase of 42 per cent.

This year, we are open to new collaborations and possibilities to strengthen community connections and ensure these good news stories continue.

 

Former Masterchef judge, George Calombaris, has thrown his support behind the vital work of Matt’s Place community meals program. The celebrity chef delighted patrons during a visit to the Cheltenham venue last month.

“I’m blown away – the camaraderie, the support, the care, the love that is in this place … it’s insanely amazing and everyone at Matt’s Place should be so proud,” Calombaris said.

And with his two-tier restaurant – The Hellenic House Project – just around the corner, Calombaris has generously promised to return in 2024 to cook guests a delicious meal.

Bayside Community Care general manager, Sandra Cavallo, has received a top gong for her service to the community.

Sandra was awarded The Paul Harris Fellow award by Rotary International, in recognition of  “tangible and significant assistance” to the local community through the work of Bayside Community Care.

The Paul Harris Fellowship Award was established by Rotary International to acknowledge individuals who exemplify exceptional service in the spirit of the organisation’s founder.

“This award reflects not just my efforts but all those who have contributed to the work of Bayside Community Care,” Sandra said.

“We have had a tremendous impact on the community over three decades, and our deep desire is to continue to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most.”

Find out more about the Paul Harris Fellow Award, here.

It was great to launch Hair Aid haircuts at Matt’s Place, Chelsea in August.

Thanks to the extraordinary work of the HAIR AID International Project volunteer professionals, patrons enjoyed a fresh cut and five-star service.

A new haircut provides dignity and respect for those in need, empowering them to take positive steps forward.

Hair Aid Community Cuts coordinates hairdressers to volunteer in their local communities.

DEMAND for a thriving Bayside community meals program will continue to be met after a Melbourne public transport operator signed up to support Matt’s Place.

Kinetic, which operates a third of Melbourne’s bus network, is now a major sponsor of Bayside Community Care’s twice-weekly meal program.

General manager Sandra Cavallo said the support from Kinetic is a key step to ensuring Matt’s Place continues to help those in need.

“We are seeing the impact of rising housing costs, rental shortages and increasing financial pressures,” Ms Cavallo said.

“Homelessness is becoming a reality for some individuals who are unable to make ends meet, while families are going without the essentials needed to stay happy and healthy.

“Partnering with Kinetic will ensure we continue to meet these needs.”

Matt’s Place has seen a 51 percent increase in attendance in the June quarter compared to the same time last year.

Demand for food relief hampers also spiked at 60 percent for the March quarter.

Kinetic is the first private sector partner for Matt’s Place.

Kinetic regional manager VIC/TAS/NSW Graham Smith said supporting the program was an important way to help make a difference.

“We are here to improve the livelihoods of the communities we serve and that goes beyond just delivering bus services. It also extends to supporting programs like Matt’s Place that are creating a real and positive impact in local communities.

“Through the partnership, we’ll support people who may be doing it tough and the incredible work of an army of volunteers who are making a difference one meal at a time.”

Kinetic is Australasia’s largest bus operator with a network of 5000 buses and a team of more than 7,300 people operating urban, regional, and school, charter and corporate and aviation services including SkyBus.

Bayside Community Care relies on government grants, church donations, and community group support to continue.  Find out more here.

In 2022, the Bayside Forever in Johannesburg, South Africa welcomed six infants. The children have adjusted and are doing well despite the country’s challenges.

As the impact of load shedding makes international headlines, the challenge does not escape the Bayside Forever Home.

South Africa is currently in an electric grid crisis compounded by years of corruption and maladministration by the state-owned utility provider. South Africans are often at Stage 6 load shedding, which can mean up to 12 hours a day without power.

This makes running a household more complex as parents use single propane burners to prepare nutritious meals for the children and manage refrigeration wisely. The team has purchased special medical equipment for the most vulnerable children to ensure their needs can be met regardless of whether the power is on at home.

Load shedding has a wide-ranging influence, including impacting water treatment plants. Families are now endeavouring to provide filtered water for baby bottles and clean drinking water for the family.

The Bayside Forever Home team is working strategically with Acres of Love (overseers of the Forever Homes) to ensure all Forever families can still thrive during a country-wide crisis.

For more information, click here.

A charity fundraiser has packed a punch for the local community – helping raise much-needed funds for Matt’s Place.

“Fight for Care”, hosted by Brother Boxing at Cheltenham, saw enthusiasts unite for a worthy cause.

The sporting spectacle aimed at raising awareness about the important work of Bayside Community Care’s twice-weekly food program.

“We were looking for a local charity to partner with and support through our boxing event when we came across Matt’s Place last year,” Brother Boxing business owner Jack Hewitt said.

“We appreciate what they do in the community to assist people in need, and our boxing community wanted to help them out.

“We believe a strong community works together to help each other.

“This was the second fundraiser for Matt’s Place and we were totally blown away by people’s support and goodwill at the event.”

General manager Sandra Cavallo said the event couldn’t have come at a better time as demand at Matt’s Place’s two sites in Cheltenham and Chelsea continues to increase.

“We are so grateful to Jack and his team,” Ms Cavallo said.  “Rising costs are putting enormous strain on individuals and families. As a result, we see new people accessing our services weekly.”

Matt’s Place Cheltenham has seen an 84 per cent increase in attendance in the March quarter compared to last year.

Demand for food hampers also spiked by 91 per cent for the same period, steadying at 60 per cent for the March quarter.

While funding is sourced through local government grants, church donations and fundraising activities, Bayside Community Care appeals to the private sector to ensure Matt’s Place continues to have an impact.

Brother Boxing raised $8,500, which will help cover the running costs of Matt’s Place.

Bayside Community Care has sponsorship and partnership opportunities for any business that wishes to make a difference.

WHEN Gladys Lim first arrived in Australia from Singapore almost four decades ago she had never felt more alone.

 “I didn’t know anybody,” Ms Lim said. “There was not a single person in my life who I could call a friend.”

Aged just 33, the Chinese-born Singaporean found herself in an unhappy relationship and was unable to work or socialise. 

“I remember my son told me one day I hadn’t spoken to anybody for over a year,” Ms Lim said.  

“I think I was trying to protect myself. “When you are unhappy and you don’t know anybody or where to turn, I guess that is what can happen.” 

In more recent years, Ms Lim said she had discovered how maintaining a small network of friends was key to ensuring her life had purpose. 

Ms Lim is a regular at the free weekly meals offered through community program Matt’s Place at the Melbourne bayside suburbs of Cheltenham and Chelsea.  

The initiative was first established by the Kingston Interchurch Council after a local need was identified.    It is now managed by Bayside Community Care, the benevolent arm of Melbourne’s Bayside Church. 

General manager Sandra Cavallo said the service provided an opportunity for people to come together.  

“I think we can sometimes underestimate the value of social connection,” she said.  

“Matt’s Place is more than somewhere to come for a free meal.  

“It’s a welcoming environment where people of all circumstances can meet and mingle. 

“At a time when social isolation is a real issue across our communities, granting people a chance to come together has never been more important.” 

Last year Matt’s Place volunteers served up 17,000 meals to more than 6200 people in need. 

A food bank also provides weekly staples so clients never leave empty-handed. 

Ms Lim said the service had been a tangible support for her when she needed it most. 

“I speak up more these days,” Ms Lim said. 

“I have learned that people are not mind readers and you have to verbalise the things you need. 

“Of course, that can take time. 

“But services like Matt’s Place provide a space where you know somebody will be there to listen. 

“If I feel bad, I will tell people. If I need support, I will ask for it. 

“That’s something I have finally learned to do. 

“I come here for the free meal which is fabulous but then I like talking with my friends.”

Ms Lim said she always reserved at least two seats at a table each week for the people whose friendships she valued most.  

“Every week, I find another reason to smile,” she said. 

“I didn’t come here expecting to make such fabulous friendships – but it is something for which I am deeply grateful.” 

Demand for a twice-weekly free community meal program has almost doubled in a year as residents across Melbourne’s bayside suburbs feel the pinch.

An initiative of Bayside Community Care, Matt’s Place, has been providing food relief  to anyone facing difficulty since it was established 16 years ago.

General manager Sandra Cavallo said demand had increased a staggering 91 per cent in January and February with expectations winter would only compound the need.

“We are seeing the impact of rising housing costs, rental shortages and increasing financial pressures,” Ms Cavallo said.

“Homelessness is becoming a reality for some individuals who cannot make ends meet, while families are going without the essentials needed to stay happy and healthy.

At Matt’s Place we are seeing this impact more than ever.”

In all, there has been a 39 per cent increase in attendance across both sites at Cheltenham and Chelsea in January and February.

Matt’s Place Cheltenham has seen an 84 per cent increase in attendance in the March quarter compared to the same time last year.

Demand for food hampers also spiked by 91 per cent for the same period, steadying at 60 per cent for the March quarter.

First established by the Kingston Interchurch Council, Matt’s Place is now managed by the benevolent arm of Melbourne’s Bayside Church.

While funding is sourced through local government grants, church donations and fundraising activities, Bayside Community Care is now appealing to the private sector to ensure Matt’s Place continues to have an impact.

Ms Cavallo said the team’s tireless volunteers remained the engine room and heart of the important service.

“Matt’s Place remains an outlet for those who may never have imagined they might need a helping hand,” she said.

Volunteer John Tetteroo said the increase in patronage at the two services in Cheltenham and Chelsea, illustrated the ongoing need.

“It’s more than just food,” he said. “People come for the social interaction and connection. We are helping predominantly single people but occasionally young families who might be struggling financially, could even be homeless or just in need of a boost.”

To find out more about Matt’s Place see Bayside Community Care.

GEOFF Thomson doesn’t care much for contemporary music. He reckons the lyrics are no good. Give him songs from The Beatles or The Rolling Stones any day.

So don’t be surprised if you find him humming one of their famous tunes while he’s sorting bread donations during his weekly stint as a volunteer for food charity Matt’s Place.

“This sounds like an old bloke talking, but the music then had greater structure,” he said. “It told stories that you could see in your mind’s eye. A lot of that, I think we’ve lost.”

At almost 80, Mr Thomson hopes he might be forgiven for being a little cynical – but he knows he can count on his weekly stint volunteering to grant him a far deeper perspective.

He is among a dedicated team of volunteers who give their time at Matt’s Place to ensure the free weekly community meal program in Cheltenham and Chelsea continues to support those in need.

Mr Thomson said it was a role he cherished.

“There is a real purpose to the work we are doing,” he said.

“Knowing you are helping people who are less fortunate. There are people out there who are hungry and down on their luck, and they are deeply appreciative of any help they can get, so we do our level best to provide that as much as we can.

“Almost without exception the people really appreciate what we do.”

Matt’s Place was first established by the Kingston Interchurch Council after a local need was identified.

It is now managed by Bayside Community Care, the benevolent arm of Melbourne’s Bayside Church.

General manager Sandra Cavallo said it was the dedication from volunteers like Geoff and his wife Louise which helped ensure the service continued.

“Each and every week we have so many staff who chip in and make a real difference,” Ms Cavallo said.

On any given Tuesday, you’ll find Mr Thomson sorting loaves while Mrs Thomson helps set the pace in the kitchen.  Team leader Jaqueline Hendrey leads a crew including cook Jo Robertson, Cameron Galland on wash up and set up duty, Ken Elvey on coffees and teas while Barb Cook and Nola Simpson wait on tables.

Last year Matt’s Place volunteers served up 17,000 meals to more than 6200 people in need. A food bank also provides weekly staples so clients never leave empty-handed.

Mr Thomson said it wasn’t just about providing food.

“Every now and again you speak to somebody and their story could almost make you weep,” Mr Thomson said.

“They have gone through hard and sometimes very cruel times.

“It offers real perspective for anybody having a bad day and it’s meaningful to know we are all playing a part in helping people forge a better path.”

Some days, Mr Thomson even ponders the words of one of his preferred music greats.

“It was John Lennon who said `Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’,” Mr Thomson said.

“I think that rings true whether you’re a volunteer or somebody who needs a helping hand.

“So I go around each table every week and have a chat while clients are enjoying their meals. Some have become good friends and we are always happy to see each other.  That in itself is a really fulfilling role to have.”

To find out more about volunteering at Matt’s Place see baysidecommunitycare.com.au or call 03 9585 2455