Rabbi Slavin, Ron Hoenig MP, General Manager Greg Fisher. Photo: ronhoenig.blogspot.com

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By Erika Echternach

While recent headlines blazon interest rate rigging, misconduct and other allegations against Westpac, the bank attempted to distract from this negative press by promoting its community grants application which closed Friday 8 June.  

Each year the Westpac Foundation’s Community Grants Program distributes $10,000 to 200 local charities. Although Westpac rakes in $8.1 billion in pure profit annually, only $2 million is allocated for supporting not-for-profit organisations. To be exact, the 200 Westpac grants comprise a slim 0.00025 per cent of the corporation’s yearly earnings.

Even factoring all of the foundation’s programs Westpac donated a meager $3.9 million last year, which is approximately only 0.00048 per cent of what the bank made last year. Priding itself on having donated $35 million to various charities since 1999, those numbers simply mean it took Westpac 19 years to contribute 0.0043 per cent of what it gained in 2017 alone.

To demonstrate the community’s need for Westpac Foundation to be more generous, here’s a look at how two organisations that received a $10,000 grant last year invested the extra money.

Located in Alexandria, Milk Crate Theatre uses the performing arts to change the story of homelessness.

Judith Bowtell, the organisation’s CEO, explained that homelessness is much more than simply “house-less-ness.”

“Experiencing homelessness means not having stable or secure housing, or a place to call home.  It includes people living in over-crowded dwellings, couch surfing, living in boarding houses, garages, crisis accommodation etc.,” Ms Bowtell said.

The theatre employs professional practicing artists to conduct performing art workshops and performances, which support positive life changes by encouraging participants to build their confidence, skills and social connections.

In 2017 the theatre partnered with the Black Dog Institute to assess the program’s impact on participants’ wellbeing. After 52 hours of observation, the researchers concluded the participants showed substantial gains in social connection, supporting others, empowerment, skill acquisition and overcoming challenges.

According to last year’s survey, 93 per cent of Milk Crate Theatre participants reported an increase in confidence and ability to connect socially with their peers.

After taking part in the program one participant said, “I am more confident about standing up for my ideas.”

Another participant agreed about the personal benefits saying, “I feel more spontaneous and mentally alert.”

Ms Bowtell said the $10,000 grant had been used to fund a creative workshop hub at Ozanam Learning Centre this year, which runs for 40 weeks. The workshops are also part of the creative development process for the theatre’s next major multi-artform work, Natural Order.

“Westpac’s support allows us to commit to being in the space for the full-year,” Ms Bowtell said.

Unless being presented in a theatre where there is a box office agreement, Ms Bowtell said all performances are free and open to the public because it is very important to Milk Crate Theatre that all who wish to attend a show are able to.

Similarly committed to the public, Our Big Kitchen is a community run, non-denominational, industrial kitchen that makes meals for those in need. The kitchen made and distributed 70,000 meals across NSW the past year.

The organisation was founded in 2005 by Rabbi Dr Dovid Slavin and Laya Slavin after Mrs Slavin noticed that some of her hairdressing clients struggled to put food on the table and began to share food with them.

The outreach grew until a volunteer created a big team to cook and pack large quantities of food. The Slavins began to realise the impact of the project, becoming determined to do even more.

The additional $10,000 has allowed the Slavins to expand their vision and upgrade their kitchen equipment.

“It’s so important for us to have quality equipment in good working order. We had our ovens and mixers serviced to ensure they will work well for many years to come,” Dr Slavin said.

Our Big Kitchen uses their equipment to run many programs including one for children to bake goods to deliver, teaching them how they can contribute, and one that invites the homeless and those with special needs to cook at the kitchen, teaching them important food preparation skills and increasing their employment prospects.

Dr Slavin said the mission is to give people more than they need and encourage them to pass on the goodwill.

“This empowers our volunteers, regardless of their socio-economic status because they become both a recipient and a giver,” Dr Slavin said.

One way Our Big Kitchen accomplishes this goal is by giving a packet of biscuits to everyone who leaves the kitchen to give to someone else.

The meals made at the kitchen are distributed to individuals, public service providers, and charities such as refuge homes. Although located in Bondi, the organisation sends meals to meet needs all over the world.

“Poverty and hardship don’t discriminate and it’s very much a question of needs. To us, Bondi is just a geographical location and we send our meals everywhere, including at times overseas,” Dr Slavin said.

Currently the kitchen is working on a project to grow the outreach by systemising its work, making it easily replicated by others.

Greater funding from a foundation such as Westpac that can certainly afford it would prevent countless more from going to bed hungry.