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Fire setback for Father Bob

08 Sep 2016

Fire setback for Father Bob Image

A fire at an adjoining cafe last month has caused significant damage to the Father Bob Maguire Foundation’s outreach Gladstone St headquarters in the Montague Precinct.

The fire, which started in an exhaust fan of the neighbouring Foxtrot Cafe on the early hours of Sunday, August 7, has left the outreach centre without power and caused $75,000 worth of damage to the property.

The most tragic outcome of the fire was the loss of $20,000 worth of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, which was to be distributed to Melbourne’s homeless.  

The foundation’s community development manager Mem River said the fire resulted in major setbacks for the community.  

“It’s making things very difficult for people. People are really struggling,” he said. “It could all take another two months by the time insurance finalises everything.”

“We didn’t have any power so all the food in our big cool room is gone. All the freezers were stocked with some really good meat.”

While the damage caused to the property is covered by insurance, the foundation’s executive officer Zach Wheeler said food wasn’t insured, as it was difficult to put a value on donated food.

Hence, the impact of having to throw out thousands of dollars in fresh food has caused major frustrations at the foundation, which is used to distributing an average of 2500 meals per month.

However, Zach said local food charities Second Bite, Food Bank, FareShare and Australian Harvest had stepped in to help get the foundation back on its feet.

And he said it was still helping others to do the same, such as its neighbours at Foxtrot Cafe, which is currently running its coffee machine out of one of Father Bob’s food vans.

“We’re actually working with the cafe next door to run their coffee machine out of one of our kitchen vans so that they can still operate,” he said.

“Along with all of our food, we lost all our cups, plates and the clothing we give out because of smoke damage. Blankets, doonas. You name it. All gone.”

Having operated out of Montague since 2013, Mem said the outreach centre didn’t only prepare meals for the homeless, but it acted as a supermarket where people were able to come in and grab what they wanted.

The centre also gives a lot more than just food. According to Mem, it provided a safe and comfortable place for people to turn to for a range of support services, including counseling, internet access or even simply a cup of tea and a yarn!

With the help of its 240 monthly volunteers, Mem said most of its work was spent away from the centre providing community meals.

“Five nights a week our vans are out and we usually serve in parks and we set up tables and chairs. We try to give a bit of dignity rather than just grabbing a plate and sitting in the gutter,” he said.

“Most of our volunteers sit down with people and have a chat so it’s a total community engagement.”

And while the fire has caused some frustrating setbacks, it certainly hasn’t dampened the foundation’s spirits.

According to Zach, volunteers and local community and church groups had opened up their kitchens at homes and centres to fill the void left by last month’s fire.

Providing more and more meals every month, Zach said the foundation’s next plan was to relocate the centre to a larger facility in order to continue meeting demand.

The foundation has set up a GoFundMe campaign, with funds raised going towards its new facility and getting it through its current difficult period.

“The Sunday when we had the fire we still went out with about 129 people so we’ll still keep feeding people but the thing that we’re worried about is the families and kids that rely on the hampers we give out for school lunches and things like that,” Zach said.

“Any contribution will help us manage through this, relocate and get more hampers going out even if it’s just out the vans for the next couple of months.”

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