At the end of an industrial estate driveway in a warehouse in Windsor west of Sydney, on the crowded concrete floor, is for many the difference between eating and not eating over the next few days.
Linda Strickland, the founder of Hawkesbury’s Helping Hands, and I stand amongst a large collection of canned and packet groceries gathered in shopping bags at our feet.
“How many people do you think you’re looking after at the moment?” I ask Linda.
“A couple of hundred, but later this week, it will be a couple of thousand,” she replies.
“We’ve probably doubled our usual input, just in the last three days. We haven’t stopped all week.
“I’m starting to get a little tired actually; I had two days off in October.”
Linda isn’t exaggerating.
For the Helping Hands, their work would start in mid-November with the rage of the Colo bushfires, feeding SES personnel and firies as they returned from the fire grounds.
It continued through mid-January with the rains that cooled the summer but left Richmond and Windsor’s bridges and homeless night refuges submerged in local floods, and now in late March, the rolling crush of coronavirus.
With businesses folding or shutting as isolation laws bite, desperation has grown, and Helping Hands is now fashioning care packs jammed with fresh food and groceries.
“We’re trying to offer the basics, and the things they might use to make multiple meals with,” says volunteer Theresa Simonsen.
A portable freezer hums in the loading dock, where meat and milk can also be collected, and farmers’ bins of fruit and veg opposite.
For many, it is the first time they have reached for charity.
“With pride and dignity, people don’t like to ask,” says Linda.
“That’s heartbreaking too, and when you say you can help them, they break into tears, which makes us start crying.”
But Linda Strickland is not stopping, although she says she could do with a few extra helping hands to help field the increasing frequency of incoming calls, and maybe a forklift for the loading dock.
And when this is over, maybe Linda Strickland can take another weekend off, given the last was in October.