Yellow. The colour conjures up thoughts of positive things- sunshine, The Simpsons, the Big Banana, rubber duckies. Coldplay even dedicated a whole song to the hue. However, I recently discovered a beacon that should shine at the top of this list- none other than the OzHarvest delivery van.
A beacon of light to so many, I had the privilege of volunteering in one of the OzHarvest delivery vans in Sydney. Zooming around town picking up food from donors and delivering these goods to agencies and people in need is literally the vehicle that drives what OzHarvest is all about.
I arrived at OzHarvest HQ on a sunny autumn morning in anticipation. I was excited but wasn’t sure what to expect- would I need to man-handle a 30-kilogram box of cherries? An entire carcass? However, I was quickly reassured by the friendly OzHarvest team that I wouldn’t be worked too hard- after all, it was my first ever shift! I was armed with my very own OzHarvest yellow t-shirt to match the famous yellow OzHarvest van- I’d seen them on Sydney’s streets but was eager to learn firsthand what magic really happens. Whilst waiting for the first few vans to depart HQ for the day, Andrew from OzHarvest’s Logistics team gave me a peek at the tracking system the team uses at HQ to gauge where each driver is throughout the day, the information fed from an app that the drivers are connected with (more on that later!). Andrew explained how Nigel was the supervisor for the day, and would be manning the tracking system and notifying drivers of any route changes, ad hoc jobs etc.
Partnered with the enthusiastic driver Nick, after filling the air-conditioned van with empty and clean food containers, we were on our way to hit Sydney’s inner city, inner-west and CBD. On the road, Nick provided a rundown of how the day would work and the process of picking up and dropping off food. It was all powered by the nifty app that the drivers use, which tracks the activity of the day. Nick had to ‘check in’ to each pick-up and drop-off point, and log the quantities of food collected and distributed. While there’s a set schedule of locations that the drivers follow each shift, I was soon to learn that this was often shaken up with changes to plan and ‘ad hoc’ jobs. Ad hoc jobs are pick-ups that are one-off or last-minute, such as a company that has a catered lunch meeting and wishes to donate the leftovers to OzHarvest, and people in need. Despite the flexible nature of the day and a few spanners thrown into the works, the jovial Nick remained cool as a cucumber.
Our first stop of the day was ALDI supermarket in Marrickville. We parked out the back in the loading dock- one of many I would become acquainted with throughout the day. Greeted by the ALDI staff, they showed us their excess food items that were available for OzHarvest. Boxes of fruit such as lush bananas and nectarines were before us, alongside other tasty treats like crumpets, raisin toast and white bread. Next up was the sorting process, where unfit fruit was discarded as well as other food that was passed its used-by date. Nick explained the parameters around certain products that weren’t acceptable for pick-up and distribution- for example, only frozen meat is allowed. Once all of our goodies were snug as a bug in crates and labelled boxes, we piled them into the back of the van. Nick logged the quantities of produce and we were on our way to Woolworths in Marrickville.
Zooting through Erskineville, Waterloo, Redfern, Ultimo, Chippendale, Glebe, Surry Hills, Annandale, Leichhardt, Newtown, Darling Harbour and Sydney CBD, plus navigating many loading docks and parking spots (similar to a game of Tetris), we had over 22 pick-ups and drop-offs throughout the day. Apex Catering donated an array of sandwiches and pies, The Pudding Shop provided glorious pastries, Woolworths Central Park offloaded fresh fruit and vegetables, Lindt Café presented beautiful chocolate delicacies, Shine Productions – a film production company provided quirky retro cans of fruit and packages of flour and sugar, St Andrew’s College offered a generous selection of cooked produce and meals; amongst many other donations.
The most rewarding, and not to mention eye-opening part of the day was distributing the food to OzHarvest’s agencies in need. The look of pure gratitude and excitement on the recipients’ faces was priceless- whether it was a small or large amount of items they were given. It was these moments that warmed me to the core, and made me realise that this is why Nick, and the rest of the OzHarvest team do what they do.
Agencies we visited included Weave Youth & Community Services in Waterloo, the Asylum Seeker Centre in Newtown, Twenty10 in Chippendale, Sydney Streetlevel Mission in Surry Hills and The Station Ltd in Sydney CBD. What also surprised me was how so many of the agencies are wedged within the inner city and inner-west suburbs of Sydney, beside trendy restaurants, cafes and other urban landmarks. The juxtaposition was palpable. I will certainly have a new sense of awareness next time I’m strolling down Crown Street in Surry Hills.
The end of the shift rolled around as quick as a runaway nectarine. It was a day of physical challenge- lifting, sifting, packing and jumping in and out of the OzHarvest van, as well as mental challenge. The experience challenged my thinking about the homeless, those less fortunate and those that feel vulnerable in our society. While these thoughts cast a sense of solemnness, I felt uplifted by what OzHarvest does to make a difference to these members of society. Although I had completed just a day’s worth of volunteering, I had contributed one meaningful step on OzHarvest’s yellow brick road.
A big thank you to Nick, Andrew, Louise and the rest of the OzHarvest team for the opportunity to volunteer in the OzHarvest delivery van.
Blog post by Jenna Chaitowitz, volunteer