SEPTEMBER 2020 – Congratulations Catherine Russell, COFA!
This month we nominate Catherine Russell, a member of Circle of Friends in South Australia. This organization consists of a number of Circles (groups) that work in various ways to support asylum seekers and refugees. Each Circle decide their own project and fundraise for it. Circle of Friends has a very close relationship with RAR and we support one another whenever the opportunity arises.
As well as her work in Circle of Friends, Catherine Russell is a member of the RAR Onshore Detention subcommittee as she is a regular visitor to Adelaide immigration detention centre prior to COVID and has even spoken in court to advocate for asylum seekers. Catherine currently visits ten people from PNG and Nauru in community detention and keeps in video contact with the twelve Manus & Nauru people still in the detention Centre.
We nominate her because of her tireless work for refugees and people seeking asylum, especially during the COVID pandemic. Here is how she established and ran The Food Project:
In early March Catherine became aware that COVID 19 was having a disastrous effect on many Bridging Visa holders – as businesses closed many lost their jobs and were unable to find alternative employment – they are ineligible for any type of government financial support. Several of the BV holders she supports have applied for work only to be told that because they are on a BV they won’t hire them because they can’t get Jobkeeper for them.
Catherine phoned 197 BVs in Adelaide to ascertain how they were managing during the pandemic and found that many were going without food and unable to pay rent and utilities.
The first priority Catherine said was for food. With two friends she started the food delivery project, phoning everyone who she had spoken to or who were referred to her by various organisations such as Red Cross or St Vincent De Paul. The two friends are now back at work and Catherine has continued the Project on her own for the last two months with the support of 50 volunteers.
Catherine’s friends and the church donated funds and when groups heard of Catherine’s work they also donated funds to support this initiative. Catherine has applied for and received Grants and Trust donations. So far this year she has received more than $40,000.
The food is purchased and bagged up on a Friday and delivered to individual houses on Saturdays. The recipients are encouraged to link to a private Facebook page which has advice on COVID rules, how to email the Red Cross/Vinnies for money to pay utility bills or rent, phone numbers for depression/mental health crisis or how to contact Catherine if they need a prescription or to pay their car rego/metro ticket top-up and more recently with job advertisements. She helped one person re-organise his loan (couldn’t get it from a bank on a BV so went to Cash Converters!) and another three men to get lawyers in a hurry.
The Food Project is progressing successfully and has had good coverage on Adelaide radio and TV and the Sunday Mail with many significant donations. More than $30,000 was donated in three days to assist with rent for asylum seekers – this has gone into a separate Circle.
Catherine is coordinating this project currently providing food to 60 homes, about 150 people with a weeks’ worth of food and has 50 volunteers helping her. Red Cross is assisting the project financially and the project has received a $10,000 government grant.
Like so many Unsung Heroes, Catherine is just one example of how thousands of Australians are taking leadership and showing compassion to vulnerable people left unsupported in this difficult time. Thank you, Catherine, and all the volunteers who work with you on the Food Project.
In response to the false information being circulated about #medevac health information. Here is accurate information, from parliament: