Challenge for charities

Cooby Cares’ Gary Allen has brought in many precautionary measures to keep people safe when getting their groceries.

CHARITIES across the country are having to scale back or cancel services, but Cooby Cares founder Gary Allen is still full steam ahead. 

The sector’s had a tough time amid the pandemic, hit by dwindling donations and a need to protect volunteers and their clients: Orange Sky Laundry has suspended operations, Vinnies has closed its shops, and Foodbank’s reserves are low.

Mr Allen has had to bring in many precautionary measures at Cooby Cares to keep everyone safe during the Covid-19 era, operating on a mantra of “zero infections in, zero infections out”.

He’s put in firm new rules for no-contact deliveries of food boxes; the people he helps often like to linger for a chat but he’s had to be strict and it’s just la drop the door. Waves are very welcome, but leaning in the car window for a yarn is off limits.

“We want to be careful before we have to be harsh,” he says.

A lot people in need of the deliveries are especially vulnerable to coronavirus, some because they’re older folk and others because of health conditions: “Asthma is a very common one, we’ve got quite a lot of people with cancers, or compromised immune systems.”

Mr Allen has closed his donation drop off for now, not wanting to spread any virus, so one stream of goods is cut off.

Cooby Cares is a small operation and when he started four years ago he didn’t want to take away from existing charities by going to an organisation like Foodbank. CC’s stores rely on donations, and he gets fruit, veggies, meat and bread from Woolworths Coolbellups’ unsold produce. The rest he buys.

“I’ll be blunt, we’re burning money…we weren’t expecting to get clobbered the way we did.”

He’s applying to Lotterywest’s Covid-19 relief fund hoping to get enough to cover their operations for about six months, and in the meantime “people have been kind enough to put money in our bank account to prop us up a bit: We’ve probably got about a month and a half of money left, but we’ve had to cut down on what goes into our boxes.”

At his storage space, measures are strict: He’s gloved up and wears a facemask, and any products that aren’t perishable “go onto shelving for a quarantine period depending on the material” (the virus is nonviable after sitting on cardboard for a day, or after three days on a plastic surface).  

“There’s been no reported cases worldwide of coronavirus coming from any foodstuffs,” he says, but he wants to be extra cautious and ease the fears: “For the people we assist, it gives them some confidence that what they’re getting has been treated properly.”

Mr Allen says the stress has taken his toll and it’s led him to “rant and rave”. He has had to tell people he can’t deliver to them if they don’t take social distancing seriously. 

“Two weeks ago they were blase, and I started shouting and stamping my feet and having tantrums, and they slowly but surely started to understand.”

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