“It’s easier to care than to turn away” is the motto of Wagga Wagga’s ‘Carevan’ and its founder, Lynne Graham.
The food van, which Lynne says focuses on “caring through the distribution of meals and providing a listening ear”, resulted from Lynne’s desire to help those in need and the tireless efforts of volunteers and the community.
“I wanted to make a difference somewhere using my skills in teaching and hospitality,” Lynne explains.
“Upon retirement in 2017 I started out of the kitchen of the Baptist Church in Wagga Wagga. We made 30 meals once a week. But before too long I told them ‘it just isn’t enough’.”
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Lynne began researching and discovered a food van in Albury doing precisely what she wanted. With their support she tapped into the generosity of the Wagga Wagga community to deliver a local version.
Thomas Bros Toyota supplied Lynne with a van and by November 2018 she was rolling out dinners by the dozen.
“With a small group of volunteers, I was able to produce an additional 70 meals in the first week,” she says.
Demand soon increased and Lynne reached out again for a warehouse, volunteers, trainers and kitchen equipment.
Local plumber Mick Bodel came forward with a former hardware store that he and other businesses fitted out.
“I didn’t realise the value of the volunteers and businesses, all hardworking and willing to help. I treasure their dedication and we try to look after them.” Lynne says.
“They clean toilets, prepare food, transport meals to venues, stocktake, do laundry, office administration gardening and publicity.”
Carevan headquarters in South Wagga was decked out with donations and opened in 2020 with freezer rooms, a commercial kitchen, offices and a cottage garden.
“We have huge business support with one organisation paying our electricity and the motor dealership covering our road costs,” Lynne explains.
“Teys Meats and Ezi Fresh along with Riverina Milk supply us, as do other food outlets, farmers, home gardeners et cetera in supplying additional vegetables and eggs.
“CWA helps out, plus the schools often do extra treats in festive seasons.
“We can now supply meals three nights a week to our locations.”
Carevan’s clients comprise the homeless and unemployed, struggling families and newcomers to town.
For many, it is the leg-up they need and can later give back.
“It is satisfying to see them make their lives better and in return repay us in some way for the help we gave in tough times,” Lynne says.
From its humble beginnings in a church hall cooking 30 meals a week, the not for profit is today producing 450 meals a week at no cost to the needy. But the vision continues to expand.
Carevan has begun handing out lunch packs and fruit for school students, often adding breakfast.
“We still experiment; that’s the fun part,” Lynne says.
“My dream is to have a shower bus for the homeless, who sometimes find a hot shower hard to come by.”
With a supportive husband, grown-up family and grandchildren who help her, the lively 74-year old feels she would like to enjoy more time with them.
She concedes that she may need to hand over the reins to the next generation one day but in the meantime, there is plenty of caring to do.
“If you see someone in need, do something practical,” Lynne urges.
For more information on ways to support Carevan visit the website.