On the road with SecondBite
7 March 2013 at 8:42 am
The Not for Profit, SecondBite, redistributes surplus fresh food to community food programs around Australia. Former teacher and freelance writer Carole Lander takes a close up look at their operations in this occasional article.
Travis from Not for Profit, SecondBite
There’s a story behind every Not for Profit organisation and the people at SecondBite are keen to tell me how, in 2005, Ian and Simone Carson had the great idea of taking unsold fruit and vegetables from Prahran Market and giving them to hungry people.
Their annual report provides glowing statistics and describes how this has grown into a successful Australian organisation.
However, I’m more interested in the story behind the statistics. So, on a cold winter Thursday I set off with Travis Aulesbrook in a refrigerated food van. The sun is shining and the diesel engine purrs as we head from the warehouse in Kensington back to where it all started – Prahran.
Since 8.00 am Travis has been loading up an assortment of food for today’s deliveries. Our first stop is the Prahran Mission on Chapel Street. We weave our way through narrow lanes behind the cafés and fashionable boutiques of the main drag to arrive at the Mission’s kitchen entrance.
We get a warm welcome from staff as we spring into action, unloading crates of pumpkins, lettuces, apples and oranges from the van. SecondBite has extended its original repertoire to other foods and I carefully carry eggs into the fridge. Heavy buckets of frozen soups donated by a hospital kitchen are gratefully received and stored in the walk-in freezer.
Our next stop is the housing commission flats where Aun meets us with a big smile. She runs a program called the Prahran Adventure Playground and beams at the trays of fruit we bring her. “The kids will eat this at homework club after school,” she explains. Aun helps me carry frozen sausages into the fridge, saying, “These will be good for a cook-up on Saturday.”
It’s time for mid-morning sustenance and Market Lane Coffee does the trick as well as giving us fifteen bags of beans. “They’ll be popular,” I comment to Travis.
The café is at the entrance to Prahran Market where we collect containers of beansprouts from the organic stall. “The major market pickup happens on Saturday,” Travis tells me.
Next door is Aldi and its roller door goes up to reveal another behind-the-scenes story. Here there is no piped music inviting customers to buy, buy, buy. Instead, a vast warehouse where our voices echo as we pile bags of potatoes, cauliflowers and cherries into shopping trollies and wheel them to the van.
Fluorescent safety vests are the only uniform we need. But sturdy footwear is recommended and calloused hands come gratis. I’ll need to develop these. I wonder what motivates people like Travis to do this work. He tells me the casual hours are good and he likes driving. I notice that he’s also very organised and has packed the van methodically so that we waste no time at each stop.
The rain starts to pour and traffic slows to a snail’s pace as we crawl along Chapel Street towards St Kilda and the Sacred Heart Mission. The bulk of our load is destined for this stop. Their need is great with 400 meals to deliver each day. I’m in for a pleasant surprise when they invite Travis and I to eat lunch there. The other diners are tucking into their meal, oblivious as to where the ingredients came from.
Back in the van with full tummies and Triple J to spur us on, we do a couple more pick-ups from Coles stores. Pulling into the first one, I’m somewhat disillusioned by the rubbish that has blown into the loading bay and the eternity we have to wait for someone to come and open the doors. The second stop is quicker and then we’re on our way back to Kensington.
I take the opportunity to ask Travis about his employer and find out that they’d like to collect 100 kg of food a day in order to make a real difference for the millions of hungry Australians. He’s a paid worker but there are about five hundred volunteers across Australia who help to make this venture work.
The sun is out again as we pull into the warehouse where Travis unloads the food we’ve collected. I don’t have a forklift license so I chat to one of the volunteers, retiree Rod Ward (65). He rubs his cold hands while sorting food. “We only keep stuff that can be used within two days,” he explains. “The rest goes to a pig farmer who comes to collect it twice a week.” Clearly nothing is wasted. I help him pick soggy lettuces out of the crate, leaving behind the firm ones. And as I fondle the lumpy, bumpy potatoes, he tells me they’ve been discarded because many shoppers prefer their spuds completely round.
It’s been a cold day both on the road and in the warehouse, not to mention the walk-in fridges and freezers. My arm muscles are feeling the effect of all that lifting. At 4.00 pm I drive away with the smell of fruit and veggies still in my nose. I’ve met a range of people whose paths would not normally cross with mine and I’ve learnt a lot about another side of the workforce.
I may even come back to SecondBite as a volunteer because, as Travis and Rod both said to me, “It’s good to be doing something for the community and seeing that nothing is going to waste.”
SecondBite redistributes surplus fresh food to community food programs around Australia. Food is donated by farmers, wholesalers, markets, supermarkets, caterers and events. This high-quality surplus food is redistributed to community food programs that support people who are homeless, women and families in crisis, youth at risk, indigenous communities, asylum seekers and new arrivals.