20 May 2023

In need of an outing? Pick Batemans Bay's Community Picnic

| Zoe Cartwright
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Batemans Bay Community Picnic volunteers (from left) Adrian Farrant, Sofia Keady, Paul Lombo, Cheryl Lombo, Trish Evans and Oliver Haas. Photo: Sofia Keady.

If you’d like to join Batemans Bay’s biggest monthly picnic, consider yourself invited.

On the last Sunday of every month, up to 50 people gather at the Clyde Street barbecue area from 12:30 pm to share food and friendship.

The Batemans Bay Community Picnic was born after pandemic restrictions eased, and Batemans Bay woman Sofia Keady noticed plenty of people in the area were still struggling.

“I work in a health food shop as a nutritionist, and a lot of our customers were saying what a hard time they were having,” she said.

“Everyone was different – some people lost loved ones during COVID, others had lost the urge to go out and socialise, or even lost their jobs.

“There were just a lot of people feeling socially isolated.”

READ ALSO Caffeine boost for community connections in Batemans Bay

Social isolation doesn’t just feel bad. Loneliness is one of the biggest environmental drivers of poor health, and it can eat away at the resilience of whole communities.

It’s so bad for our health that last week US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy declared war on what he called a “loneliness epidemic” in America.

“Loneliness I think of as a great masquerader, it can look like different things,” Dr Murthy said.

“Some people, they become withdrawn. Others become irritable and angry.

“If you feel lonely, you pick up the phone and call a friend, and then it goes away, or you get in the car and go see a family member, that’s OK.

“That’s loneliness acting like hunger or thirst, a signal our body sends us when we need something for survival. It’s when it persists that it becomes harmful.”

Sofia wasn’t able to sit idly by while she saw so many Eurobodalla people struggling with this persistent feeling of loneliness, so over a cup of chai with a friend at a local cafe, she came up with an idea.

A volunteer at the Moruya Street Kitchen before COVID struck, Sofia had seen the power of a shared meal to bring people together.

So surely, a regular shared meal, with no cost and no strings attached, would be the ideal way to help people reconnect with their community, or even find new connections.

The Batemans Bay Community Picnic was born.

It is open to anyone and is held rain, hail or shine. Food is donated by local businesses, and there is always plenty to go around.

“We never know how many people will turn up – it went from five to 54, and even when it’s raining we have more than 30,” Sofia said.

“You don’t know if someone is there because they are homeless, or have health struggles, have lost someone, or live far away from their family and feel lonely.

“It’s just a nice group of people who sit down and chat with each other. Some people have already struck up friendships and go out together in between picnics.

“We don’t judge anyone, we aren’t connected with any institutions, we just want to help out.”

It’s not a one-woman show – a team of volunteers keeps the picnic going each month.

Some drive up from Tuross or Moruya, and each makes his or her unique contribution.

“We have wonderful volunteers, they’re the backbone of the picnic,” Sofia said.

“One man lives in his van, so he spends the night at our spot and gets up early to make sure it’s clean and ready and sets up the banner.

“Others bring food, some just leave it, others stay and share a meal.

“We’ve been so supported by local businesses, too. Bakers Delight always contact me and ask if someone will come to pick up food, Woolies and Coles also donate each month, and lots of smaller businesses have been very generous to us as well.

“I’m especially grateful because I know a lot of businesses are feeling the pinch, but they’ve been so generous because they know others are struggling too.

“I’m so proud of our community.”

If you’re keen for a Sunday picnic, head down to the Clyde Street barbecue area (opposite Se7en Cafe) from 12:30 pm on the last Sunday of the month.

No reservations or bookings are required – just your company.

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