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Port Macquarie Doorways clients covered in love by Salvos service


Port Macquarie Corps Officer Captain Peter Gott (right) with the Doorways team (from left) Ian Davies (Doorways ER Assessor), Major Mavis Salt – retired (drop-in centre volunteer), Chris New (Doorways Coordinator), Lee Miller (drop-in centre volunteer) and Josephine Oduro (Doorways Caseworker).

BY LAUREN MARTIN

For the past eight years, community members needing emergency relief from The Salvation Army have called the phone assistance line for assessment and then collected vouchers at their nearest ‘Connect Centre’. Now, the Doorways team is trialling new face-to-face Financial Assessment Centres at several sites across the state.


One of those sites is Port Macquarie on the NSW Mid-North Coast. Corps Officer Captain Peter Gott says it all came about because of a strong desire by corps members to create relationships around the Emergency Relief (ER) space.


“A lot of our volunteers that were working or volunteering in our welfare space (before Doorways) had transitioned to become Doorways volunteers.


“When we arrived as corps officers, we got to know the team, and there was a real heart for wanting to create a space to meet the real needs of loneliness and isolation that are quite high in our community, especially as a result of the COVID lockdown years.”


Last year, the corps built relationships with Coles Secondbite and OzHarvest and started a Wednesday drop-in at the corps building with groceries and free fresh fruit and vegetables.


Doorways case managers and ER operate on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and there are always volunteers at the corps on those days, providing community members with cups of tea and coffee and someone to chat with if they are waiting for an appointment.


Port Macquarie Doorways team members chat with community members from a stall set up in the city centre during Homelessness Week recently.

It was the perfect place for Doorways to trial face-to-face financial assessment for emergency relief.


Now, if people come to the corps for the drop-in centre and to get food relief, they can take advantage of having an immediate face-to-face emergency relief assessment if a need is identified.


“I remember a single mum had come into our drop-in centre ... it wasn’t her first time grabbing some food,” says Peter. “She was chatting and said to one of the other community members that, at the moment, things are so tight for her that she is either buying food or her medication. She couldn’t afford both.


“I was able to say, ‘Well, our team has some chemist warehouse vouchers that could be there to help you.’ So, on that same day, she was able to see one of the Doorways team and get that support.”


‘Beautiful’ partnering

Chris New is the coordinator of the Mid-North Coast Doorways Program and works with the Doorways team at Port Macquarie Salvos. He says the face-to-face trial is working incredibly well because of the beautiful partnering between the corps and Doorways teams.


“The moment a community member comes through the doors, they meet our lovely volunteers who are extremely warm and welcoming. They are sat down and offered a cup of tea or coffee, and they will undergo a financial assessment with our ER assessor, like one of the phone assessors, but in person.


“When you walk through the doors of a Salvos corps, you get covered in love, you really do. That’s what community members feel when they come through the door. They will exhale, they will speak to corps members, and you can see the weight get lifted off their shoulders ... some of them will burst into tears. They almost feel that they have ‘come home’ to a support network that they have not had in their lives.”


After the initial ER assessment, many community members are offered the chance to journey with a Doorways case manager to assist them in navigating more complex life issues. This journey also involves corps-member volunteers, who get to know the community members as they come back for appointments and often spend time at the Wednesday drop-in space, getting groceries and having a cuppa and a chat.


Peter says there are plenty of opportunities to develop partnerships with other community organisations in the corps building space, which has a large commercial kitchen and lots of space.


“I think there is also opportunity for life-skills programs,” he says. “The ER space is really about the crisis moment, and then the case worker is trying to pull them out of that space, but we want to focus on how we can give people the tools to build good skills in life.


“But we are building community and relationship here first, and we will see where God leads.”


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