Alice Fong says she feels a sense of “great joy” knowing she is making a difference.
Ms Fong migrated to Australia in 1977 and worked as a career consultant. In April 2021, she and a friend decided to volunteer at a soup kitchen in Sydney’s Martin Place, headed by homeless activist, Lanz Priestley.
Ms Fong recalls: “I didn’t bring anything, just a pair of hands. We made hamburgers that day. It felt wonderful and the cooks were very kind too.
“The second time I went, I couldn’t go empty-handed of course since it’s food distribution, you need to bring something to give away. Since the weather was cold, we each brought a pot of soup and it was finished in less than 20 minutes! I was very excited and happy as I went home.”
Alice Fong with volunteers handing out food in Sydney's North Shore. Source: Ranky Law
To meet the high demand, Ms Fong used her human resource management skills to increase the supply of food donations. She set up a Facebook community group to call out for anyone who was interested in joining the soup distribution, with a target of 50 to 100 litres each time.
She says: “A lot of people put up their hands. I couldn’t remember how long it was (but) after about three to four months, there was already 100. When I went to the Sydney CBD, there were quite a few rough sleepers and other beneficiaries who took our food. They gave me a lot of love.”
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When COVID-19 restrictions eased, many charities became operational again with services in areas like Martin Place, Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills.
Mr Priestley’s passing in November 2021 motivated Ms Fong to continue to support the homeless, vulnerable people and struggling families on the North Shore.
People visiting the soup kitchen for hot food, nutritious meal, fruit, and drinks. Source: Ranky Law
Ms Fong and her team, 95 per cent of whom are from Willoughby Living, travel around the area to identify those they can help, including at hostels and youth refuges.
With the rising cost of living, bread, vegetables and fruit can cost at least $30 to $40 a week which means some families sacrifice nutritious food to pay for other essentials, she says.
In addition, statistics show rough sleepers, who have been homeless for more than eight months, face more obstacles when returning to normal life.
That’s why Ms Fong and her team of dedicated volunteers go out every Wednesday starting at 5.45pm, no matter the weather conditions, to set up a food collection area.
Food donors are mainly from the North Shore but Ms Fong also collects unsold bread from Northbridge’s Baker’s Delight every Tuesday before close of business and food boxes are donated by Box Divvy in Willoughby, Crows Nest, Cammeray and Castlecrag.
Rising costs of living are hitting those in low income households hard. Source: Ranky Law
Volunteers cook and put together 50 meal boxes and 10 to 20 soup batches each week.
Ms Fong says: “I hope the food we provide can help them at least a bit financially, so they will not lose their social housing, leaving them homeless.
Whenever I come to these low-rent housing areas, it feels like I'm going back to my childhood.
"I grew up in Hong Kong’s resettlement estates. I feel the sense of belonging and I understand their situations.”
Ms Fong says it’s not just about providing food, but an understanding that everyone has different needs. SouperStar is also helping one special education school and has supported a Ukrainian family who recently settled on the North Shore.
Alice Fong is able to supply food for many households in need in Sydney's North Shore. Source: Ranky Law
She says: “After I started doing this, it gave me a joyful sense of achievement. If I don’t do it, I will feel empty. The beneficiaries’ needs are not only material, but (they) also (need) your love and care.
“There was an Indigenous person, who had recently injured his leg and couldn’t come down, (so) we took the food to his place. There is a lady whose mother can’t eat much except some sweet potato puree.
“If we know they have special needs, we keep some of the food for them. When people collect food, it gives them an opportunity to get to know their community over a warm drink.”
Carol, a volunteer for SouperStar, says: “It's making a difference in a small way. You don't know how much it means to them.”
Volunteer Robyn adds: “It gives me more pleasure than what we are doing. I just love it.”
Ms Fong notes SouperStar is also a psychological support outlet for some volunteers who are going through personal struggles.
She explains: “I know a few of them who helped me in this have some problems at home that affect their emotional well-being. Doing this gives them a sense of support and a chance to be relieved emotionally.”
The one challenge that Ms Fong faces is raising funds for insurance but every time Ms Fong sees the boxes of food being emptied, she says it’s “mission accomplished”.