By Frank Porter
No bucks? No worries! If it’s not the motto of one of Hobart’s most popular community meals services, Nobucks, it probably should be.
Since 2007, Nobucks – which is a play on the name Starbucks – has served free lunches each weekday to anyone who turns up, which is mostly people in need.
And the menu isn’t simple sandwiches and dry biscuits, everyone gets a hot lunch and dessert.
Ziad, who runs the kitchen, says he and his team of volunteers serve about 300 meals a week. With a budget of $300 a week, that’s $1 for each meal, which is clearly well short of what is needed.
“We have some great suppliers who provide discounted meat, fruit and vegetables, but it’s difficult to make it work,” Ziad says.
“We don’t receive government funding, we rely on the generosity of donors and our community. Without them, we wouldn’t be open.
“For a handful of people who come to Nobucks, it’s the only food they have access to each day. For many, it’s a chance to come into a welcoming space and have a chat to others.
“People often tell us how much they enjoy the food and thank us. It feels like we’re making a difference.”
Nobucks is making a difference to the lives of people on both sides of the counter, too. Helping Ziad prepare and serve the meals is a team of volunteers and “supported employees” who would not have paid work were it not for Nobucks.
Supported employees are people living with a disability who receive help to do their job, develop new skills and create long-term work goals.
One of those supported employees is Jodie who, until recently, had volunteered at Nobucks for two years. Jodie, 51, lives with an acquired brain injury that causes severe and ongoing short-term memory loss.
“It’s nice to feel valued,” Jodie says. “I’ve really enjoyed volunteering at Nobucks, so I’m proud to have the opportunity to become a staff member.
“I’ve volunteered for many organisations and this is my first paid role, so it’s very special.”
Ziad says Jodie has long been a popular member of the Nobucks team.
“Everyone loves Jodie,” he says. “She gets along well with the volunteers, her colleagues and the customers. She’s always up for a joke and has a smile of her face. When I ask Jodie to do something, she jumps straight in and does it.”
Jodie said she heard about Nobucks through a friend.
“I was home alone one day and feeling a bit lonely so I tagged along a few times and started to enjoy it there,” she says.
“I wanted to make myself useful, so I would collect the dirty dishes from the dining room and take them into the kitchen. One of the volunteers suggested I should look into volunteering, so I did.”
Jodie started helping out in the kitchen twice a week and, when the pandemic hit last year, many regular volunteers were unable to provide support, so Jodie stepped in to help fill the breach.
One of the reasons Jodie is so valuable to, and appreciated by, Nobucks staff and customers alike is she can empathise with many of the people walking through the door. Like them, Jodie had a troubled upbringing and spent much of her teenage years in and out of psychiatric hospitals.
Eventually, she was discharged from hospital. Unable to work and on a disability pension, Jodie, who by now had three children, ended up joining the local Scout group and it was there that she met her husband, Randall.
Last year, Randall received a small pay rise, which meant Jodie’s disability pension was cut off and the family’s finances became more strained.
“We used my disability pension to put money away for Christmas and birthday presents for the kids and to buy them clothes during the year,” Jodie says.
“With three growing children to feed – Rohan (17), Cailean (16) and Olivia (12) – and a mortgage to pay, we don’t have a lot of money left over after we buy the essentials.”
Last year, Jodie’s children were hoping to get a bike each for Christmas, but Jodie couldn’t afford them. When Uniting heard about this, they stepped in and bought three bikes to go under the Christmas tree.
“It meant the world to us,” Jodie says. “It was so kind and it’s been a big help. Rohan rides his bike to college each day and Cailean will do the same when he goes to college next year.”
If you would like to help people in need such as Jodie this Christmas, or organisations such as Nobucks, please donate to Uniting’s Christmas Appeal.
Nobucks is open 12-2pm weekdays at 56-58 Melville St, Hobart. To donate to Uniting’s Christmas Appeal, visit www.unitingvictas.org.au/appeal