Calling out for volunteers

The op shop is located on Hutchinson St, Lilydale opposite Bunnings. Pictures: MIKAYLA VAN LOON. 235961_06

With the hardships of Covid-19 and government assistance now over, places like CIS Yarra Ranges op shop are seeing more and more people ask for help.

But being short staffed is putting strain on the volunteers.

Store manager Michele Swarbrick said the op shop is currently operating with five volunteers for six days a week but they would ideally like to put on an extra five or six people.

Ms Swarbrick said hours are flexible and people feel like they are doing something good and are helping after such a terrible year.

“It’s lovely because they are giving back to the community, they feel a sense of community,” she said.

“They feel like they are contributing because that’s the other side of this whole scenario of Covid-19, is that you feel so incapable of doing anything.”

CIS or community information support, offer a range of support programs for people struggling in the community.

Whether it be help with bills, needing food vouchers or getting kids back to school, CIS Yarra Ranges can give people the assistance they need.

The way they can do this is through the selling of donated goods at their op shop.

Ms Swarbrick said for people who have nothing, CIS Yarra Ranges gives them a voucher to use at the op shop, where the volunteers will help set them up with clothing, manchester, cutlery and dinnerware.

“So they may have just been new to the area, we have a lot of people that are brought out to Lilydale to be away from an environment that they don’t need to be in anymore but they’ve got nothing,” she said.

Another popular item, which Ms Swarbrick was very concerned about, was sleeping bags.

Ms Swarbrick said a number of people are sleeping on the streets or in their cars and come looking for warm blankets.

“We’ve got a lot of people that are coming needing assistance with various different things and it has just increased ten fold since Covid-19 started.

“It’s starting to pick up, it’s starting to get better but we have a lot of people living on the streets that are finding it very tough, living in their cars and it’s a terrible situation.”

Volunteers have learnt to understand that people may not be able to ask for help and so they do their best to help where they can.

“We have just noticed so many people coming in who are struggling and it’s hard for people to ask for help, people are proud,” Ms Swarbrick said.

“They may have been doing really well before last year and then all of a sudden they’re not and it is very hard to ask for a hand out, so you have to be able to see between the lines.”

Not only is the op shop providing essential items to the community, they have recently started a community garden.

“The community garden is a new thing that we’re trying to let them know that they can help themselves. If they need a bit of parsley or if they need zucchinis, please feel free.

“Even though we are an op shop, we are an op shop with a huge heart.”