Indigenous-themed restaurant Charcoal Lane has joined some of Melbourne's Indigenous community organisations to deliver nutritious meals to those mob most in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Gertrude Street, Fitzroy restaurant is a social initiative by Mission Australia and usually the main aim of the not-for-profit enterprise is to train Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as apprentices chefs, providing both early career and, in some cases, later career employment opportunities.
However, after closing to regular diners due to the state's COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the restaurant looked to its apprentices for suggestions on how it could best support the community during the pandemic.
“The number one concern raised by our trainees in this time was concern for Elders," said Troy Crellin, Mission Australia’s manager of social enterprise programs.
"In response, we consulted with local Aboriginal Elders and leaders and agreed if Mission Australia repurposed the kitchens to produce 'at-cost' nutritious meals, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service would manage and mobilise support to distribute the meals."
Charcoal Lane Executive Chef Greg Hampton, alongside the restaurants other chefs, has been working hard to put together 150 meals per day for delivery to community Elders, the homeless and other vulnerable people self-isolating in lockdown.
Kitchen staff have produced a range of meals using limited traditional ingredients, producing cuisine usually on offer during regular service. Chef Hampton said one of the most creative dishes so far has been an Emu stroganoff.
"We're using a few different spices like lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepper and things like that, but because of the budget constraints, we can't really put a lot of native foods in there," Mr Hampton told NITV News.
"We use a little bit of emu... [suppliers] have come to the party and given us some reasonable prices on things.
"It's great that we can actually help people and feel like we're contributing and trying to keep people happy and well fed and healthy and it's great."
In addition to the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS), the Aboriginal Community Elders Services, Darebin City Council, Yarra City Council’s Aboriginal Support Network, cohealth’s Billabong BBQ Program, Aboriginal Housing Victoria and Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Co-operative have also been involved.
For many Elders and community members in social isolation, greeting VAHS workers each day is some of the only human interaction they will have, and gives the organisation a chance to check on the welfare of recipients.
“When we arrive with the meals, it is an opportunity for us to connect people to the right health services or encourage them to look after their health by following current health guidelines and take actions such as getting a flu shot," VAHS CEO Michael Graham said.
"Providing them with a nutritious meal is an important part of ensuring those most at risk are best looked after."
The program is expected to continue for the duration of the pandemic. Charcoal Lane's restaurant reopens on June 1 in line with the easing of Victoria's restrictions.