There is a buzz coming from inside the Sandgate Community Centre that only gets louder as we climb the steps to enter. It’s the sound of chatter and laughter; of old and new friends catching up and of cutlery tinkling against plates.
This happy hum is coming from the Community Café – a weekly gathering of locals who come together to share lunch and conversation with each other. The event is run by SANDBAG (an acronym for the Sandgate and Bracken Ridge Action Group), an organisation that has been supporting the local community for 30 years and was a recent recipient of Brisbane Airport’s Community Giving Fund.
We are greeted warmly by staff and volunteers, and taken to sit at a table with Seng, who we chat with as meals are served. Seng moved to Australia when he was young and has lived in almost every part of the country. His latest move saw him come to Brisbane from Melbourne, seeking the warmer climate. His face lights up at the idea of living in Broome or Darwin, where the heat and humidity would be well-suited to his Malaysian roots.
Seng has been coming to the Community Café every week for the past 5 years, and comments that it’s a very valuable service that helps people when they need it. He appreciates the socialising aspect of the lunches and the variety of food they receive.
The three course meal on today’s menu includes a starter of satay soup, with meat pie and veges for the main course, followed by a delicious strawberry sponge cake, of which Seng happily accepts a second slice.
All the meals are prepared by volunteers with food provided by OzHarvest, the food rescue organisation.
One of those volunteers is Gwen, who we chat with as she serves the meals. Even with a face mask on, you can tell that Gwen has a huge smile on her face as she tells us about her time volunteering with SANDBAG, something she has done for almost 30 years. She loves the people she meets and the stories they tell.
With such a long association with SANDBAG, she has seen the group evolve through the years, even working from their original building before moving with them to their location now on Rainbow Street.
Rainbow Street is a fitting location for SANDBAG. After all, part of their logo is a rainbow ribbon – a symbol of the colour and vibrancy of the people who live in the local area and create the community connections that are a core part of SANDBAG’s mission and purpose.
We discuss this purpose in more detail with Erin Williams, SANDBAG’s Neighbourhood and Community Program Manager. She explains that SANDBAG supports active and inclusive communities by connecting people to activities, programs and services. They do this through coordinating a range of community services such as the community café, NDIS support, crisis support, a drop in centre and fresh food support.
On the day we visit, as well as the Community Café, there is also Bag a Bargain, where residents can fill their bags with essential fresh food, bread and other groceries.
When asked what she most likes about working at SANDBAG, her response reflects those we’d received earlier from Seng and Gwen.
“It’s the connections with people. They’re so easy to make. I love being a part of those connections and facilitating them.”
Building these community connections is very important at SANDBAG.
“We are a social society. Community connections are so important for mental health and also for being able to get the message out about the services available. It’s amazing how these community activities enrich their own lives as well as others.”
SANDBAG have used the Community Giving Fund to purchase reusable and recyclable cups, cutlery, plates and containers for use at the Community Café. Erin explains how the impact of Covid-19 changed how they served meals and a lot more plastic was creeping in. Given the Single Use Plastic Ban that came into effect in Queensland on 1 September, it was important to find alternative solutions.
“The Community Giving Fund helps us to become more sustainable and reduces our environmental footprint”.
And that’s an outcome that Brisbane Airport is more than happy to support.