Gamilaraay woman Liana Pitt and Wiradjuri woman Sarah Levett had an idea to help Wiradjuri Elders in Wagga Wagga struggling to find necessities in the supermarkets amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Pitt said that panic buying in Wagga Wagga made her worried for the Elders and that Woolworths managers told her that if people bought what they needed and no more, there would be no issue.
“The Woolworths managers that donated [money], they said to me they couldn’t buy anything of worth in regard to the basic necessities to our Elders because they [the products] were flying off the shelves and they couldn’t even keep their own shelves packed, this was obviously before the restrictions were in place.”
“That’s when I realised oh my goodness, this is getting out of hand. We need to get these hampers together ASAP. Everybody was laughing about the toilet paper issue, but I dropped one hamper off to one of the Elders, and they haven’t had toilet paper for over two days.”
Ms Pitt reached out to local businesses across Wagga Wagga, and Ms Levett set up a Facebook page and helped fund the project. About six other volunteers helped pack and distribute the hampers including members from Ms Pitt’s work The Wagga Family Support group.
Twenty-eight hampers were put together full of basics like bread, eggs, milk, hand sanitisers and even some goodies such as steak and colouring-in books. In the space of three days about 25 businesses donated to the initiative including local bakers, pubs, butchers and small businesses who will most likely be closing their doors soon.
In the space of three days about 25 businesses donated to the initiative including local bakers, pubs, butchers and small businesses who will most likely be closing their doors soon.
Ms Levett says that the Elders were humbled and overwhelmed with the generosity of the Wagga Wagga community.
“It was just a big community effort that was so amazing to see.”
“Some of them cried. Some of the Elders were shocked that we could get a packet of rice; they were over the moon.”
“One of the Elders has been looking after kids, and she just hasn’t been able to talk to an adult - because she hasn’t been able to go for a walk down to her family house. Just even having a chat with someone was good for her. They really needed it. They didn’t feel as isolated.”
Ms Pitt is from Moree, and due to the recent travel restrictions, she hasn’t been able to visit her Nan. She explains that there’s a natural foundation of respect for Aboriginal Elders, so there was no question about launching the project.
“I miss my Nan. She raised me when I was a little girl, you know, so I’ve got a big connection there with my Nan. I think that’s what made the project succeed because when you’ve got that passion and desire… I wouldn’t let any of those businesses say no to me.”
“In Aboriginal culture, we are told to look after our Elders, that’s one of the biggest things that’s engrained in Aboriginal culture so it was just natural to do what we did and we would like to offer that to the wider community if businesses wanted to jump on board.”
Ms Pitt and Ms Levett hope to help more elderly community members in Wagga Wagga with the help of those who can identify the people in need. The community effort involved in this particular project made it easier for them to recognise who needed help.
“We wanted to do grassroots, we wanted to make sure we consulted with community to make sure we knew who really really needed it, as we were only able to do so many,” said Ms Pitt.
The young women say that there has been a flow-on effect not just in the Elders community, but also nationwide.
“Elders are less ashamed now to ask for help whereas before they wouldn’t ask for help. Some of them were a bit prideful, but now they’re so thankful.”
Ms Levett’s Aunty has kick-started a national Facebook page for community check-in’s where Elders who are online can check-in and say what they need, and community members can jump on board to see how to they can assist them.
The group is called Nationwide Support for our Elders during COVID19
“I think for Sarah and I, as young emerging black women it was a good thing we could do for our community.”