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Volunteers make a world of difference


Volunteers make a world of difference

OzHarvest food rescue team embodies Australia’s tradition of giving a free helping hand to those in need. WORDS: Linda Hooper.

It’s a typical early Monday morning in the Coolum Industrial Estate and workers are arriving at businesses and factories, ready to tackle the week ahead.

In Unit 1, 39 Dacmar Road, a production line is already in full swing. However, the workers are volunteers, and they’re on a mission to not only feed those who are struggling to make ends meet, but also help save the environment by reducing the amount of good food that goes to landfill.

Many people have heard of OzHarvest: the largest, not-for-profit, perishable-food rescue organisation in Australia, which was founded in Sydney 20 years ago.

However, many locals are not aware that there is a thriving local chapter, serving the area from Caloundra in the south to Gympie in the north and the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

It was started by Peregian Springs resident Michele Lipner OAM in August 2004 and has grown to a small army of more than 130 volunteers who collect quality, surplus food from more than 35 food donors and distribute it to almost 50 charities, schools, youth programs, churches and community centres.

After nearly 10 years, Michele is still a hands-on volunteer. Today, she is joined by Marie Lewis, Nicole Anderson, Di Stevenson and Mike and Mary Bruce, who check the 545kg of surplus food collected by other volunteers from the Sunday Fishermans Road and Noosa Farmers’ markets.

Two of the team members include retirees Mike and Mary, who have been volunteering since 2019.

“We just wanted to do something for the community. We love OzHarvest and the work they do,” Mike says.

After helping to pack the boxes, as well as clean the empty ones, Mike and Mary will deliver several of them to four charities, including the Salvation Army, Vinnies and Youturn. They’ll get home around lunchtime and then Mike will head straight to Mount Coolum Golf Club for a game.

Another volunteer, cancer survivor Nicole Anderson, has put her health challenges behind her and is a valued and committed volunteer. Today, she’s doing a double shift – sorting produce and helping to thoroughly sanitise the tables and sweep the warehouse afterwards.

She’s joined by Lyn Granger, who has driven from Kiels Mountain to do cleaning duty. Packing the produce goes without a hitch. Each box is packed, keeping in mind the individual recipient’s specific requirements – a school may only require fruit while some charities need fruit, vegetables and dried goods.

Produce is also set aside for any upcoming Cooking for a Cause events, which offer companies the opportunity to reward their employees with a team-building event led by a professional chef. Participants prepare meals for delivery by the OzHarvest team and learn about food waste and food rescue.

One table is stacked with produce for delivery to Urban Angels: an organisation that prepares frozen meals for the homeless and other groups experiencing food insecurity. OzHarvest volunteers Jane McCarthy and Oriana Grijmans arrive to collect several crates of produce to deliver to Urban Angels. There, they will pick up frozen meals which will be delivered to organisations such as Vinnies, Samaritan Care and the Salvation Army.

As the sorting comes to an end and the volunteers take a break for a cuppa, Michael Spicer and Wayne Simpson – one of two groups of drivers who pick up and deliver food using OzHarvest vans – arrive to load some of the packed boxes into their van. Their food pick-ups started at 7am and their delivery run will take several more hours, but they don’t stop for long as they want to get the food delivered to their designated agencies as soon as possible. The need is huge and growing.

Michele says there continues to be increased demand for their services, with no end in sight: “Cost-of-living pressures, the price of basic commodities and the ongoing social and economic impacts from the pandemic have all taken their toll.”

The OzHarvest Sunshine Coast team now rescues and redistributes about 20,000kg of quality surplus food each month. Since its inception in August 2014, the chapter has rescued and distributed over one million kilograms, which equates to about 2.7 million meals. It’s an incredible feat for a chapter that, until October 2023, was fully volunteer run.

Feeding those in need isn’t the only achievement the Coast Volunteers can be proud of. They educate, innovate and advocate through various school and community outreach programs. They’ve also released a locally produced recipe book, SunnyCoast Eats, which is packed with easy, budget-friendly recipes and tips to reduce food waste.

For more on the OzHarvest Sunshine Coast team, see
local-ozharvest/sunshine-coast/ or contact the team at

Value Of Work Increases but Numbers Are Declining Across Qld

A new report has detailed the economic and social value of volunteering across the state.

But it also has noted a decline in volunteer numbers over recent years.

Volunteering Queensland’s second State of Volunteering in Queensland Report, released on May 7, provides insights into the characteristics and challenges of volunteers and volunteer managers.

Volunteering Queensland CEO Mara Basanovic says the report will help inform effective stakeholder decisions regarding community wellbeing.

“As expected, and in line with other demographic research, our research shows a decline in overall rates of volunteering since the 2021 Report,” she says.

“This 2024 report found that 64.3 per cent of Queenslanders (aged over 15 years) volunteered in the previous 2 months. This is a decline of just over 10 per cent in three years.”

Ms Basanovic says despite the data, a survey reveals more Queenslanders have shown interest in volunteering.

“Around 30 per cent of surveyed residents, regardless of whether they currently volunteer or not, would like to do more.

“Most people who currently volunteer wish to keep on volunteering.

“The reason people don’t or can’t volunteer more is multifaceted.

“But this research identifies several key barriers – most notably people’s restrictions on time, health factors and the rising costs of living.”

The report shows the value of volunteering continues to increase, with a $4.70 return delivered for every $1 invested in volunteering.

As significant as that is, it now costs volunteers $15.57 for every hour they volunteer (an increase from $4.76 in 2020), with volunteers shouldering 76.2 per cent of this cost and organisations only reimbursing their volunteers 23.8 per cent of these costs.

Ms Basanovic says the research highlights the critical need for strategic investment to support Queensland’s volunteers and volunteer-involving organisations and the generous work
they do to build and maintain a cohesive community.

The more reinforced is the message that volunteers make a positive difference and are highly valued and that, as a society, we understand and support their essential role in maintaining our quality and way of life, the more likely it is that people will volunteer and continue to volunteer.

Volunteering Queensland has developed an Advocacy Plan to progress the findings in the report and ensure that Queensland volunteering has a robust future that supports the multifaceted, critical work that volunteers undertake.

How you can help your local community through volunteering

Since 2004, Volunteering Sunshine Coast (VSC) has provided opportunities for 26,000 volunteers.

This is through direct involvement in its own programs (Pathways to Employment and Spontaneous Disaster Volunteers), as well as relief and support to 130-plus member organisations. Among this group of volunteers is a proportion of people requiring special support with mental health issues, disability and long term-unemployment. Whether it’s giving a couple of hours of your time to help mentor a disadvantaged or at-risk child, visiting an elderly person who is isolated or lonely, patient and visitor support at hospital, or providing care to those living with cancer, there are endless opportunities to make a difference.

Visit or call 5443 8256.




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