Volunteers serve breakfast, coffee to homeless people on the mid coast

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Volunteers serve breakfast, coffee to homeless people on the mid coast

It's a cold winter's morning in the New South Wales coastal town of Port Macquarie and a group of locals have gathered to serve warm breakfasts and hot coffee to those in need or sleeping rough.

A volunteer-run mobile food van is meeting a growing need in the community, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of affordable housing.

Pete Rutherford is among those enjoying breakfast.

He said that they keep us well fed and they are funny, nice people, good company.

I'm going into debt paying rent and it's gone up $70 a week. Craig is happy to chat to regulars in the van.

The food van is run by Mid North Coast not-for-profit charity Make a Difference MAD, founded in 2016 by Erin and Rob Denham.

Karen Faichney, the volunteer coordinator of the service, said we started with a small committee of like-minded people who have a passion for helping others.

Ms Faichney said that the need for the service has increased steadily in recent years.

Currently we have six meal services during the week where we feed homeless and disadvantaged people in Port Macquarie, Camden Haven and Wauchope.

We have had a huge volunteer intake as well, we now have 62 volunteers, they are amazing. The demand for the service is expected to continue, with limited availability of affordable rental properties in the region.

The latest Real Estate Institute of NSW REINSW Vacancy Rate Survey results show residential vacancies in some regional areas but have been tightened further in others, including Coffs Harbour, where there is a 1.5 per cent vacancy rate.

Ms Faichney said that providing meals was important, but the element of social connection was also vital.

Regular people are beginning to form a community where they can sit and have a meal and chat and laugh and that's so heart-warming to see. John Hopkins is a regular visiter to the food van to help out and talk.

It's nice to get together and have breakfast, and you get to have a chat, I help with a meal service too, it's good, he said.

Ms Faichney said when it began, Make a Difference's first project was to secure a mobile Orange Sky Laundry Van for the Mid North Coast region, a service that provides a regular laundry and shower service for those experiencing homelessness.

She said that as homeless numbers were increasing, we wanted to bring the Orange Sky Laundry van to Port Macquarie and we raised $110,000 to bring that van here.

The service was able to buy the food van through further fundraising.

We decked it out with a barista-style coffee machine and that was to give our friends on the street a treat, a nice coffee or chai latte, Ms Faichney said.

We use the coffee machine at markets and other fundraising events to fund meal shifts throughout the week to ensure the longevity of our charity. Make a Difference has also assisted during natural disasters on the Mid North Coast, including after the 2019 bushfires and during major flooding in 2021.

Ms Faichney said that the charity needed larger facilities and it had just acquired a larger food trailer.

She said we applied for a grant through the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation to help with a mobile food trailer, allowing for greater meal production.

The food trailer was launched last month during the organisation's annual fundraiser, Ride the Wave Festival, where it was used commercially to raise revenue.

Ms Faichney said it was heart-warming to see what could be achieved at a grassroots level.