Newcastle’s latest COVID-19 outbreak is showcasing the finest Novocastrian spirit as businesses and residents pull together to help the city’s most vulnerable. 

The Hunter went into a snap lockdown last Thursday afternoon, and despite being hit hard by the new restrictions, some small businesses are finding ways to give back to the community. 

Newy Burger Co. is just one of the businesses in the region that, despite facing its own challenges as a result of the lockdown, has proved that kindness prevails. 

On its Facebook page, the business revealed to its followers that it would be offering house-made soup to Novocastrians with “no questions, no need to explain and no judgement”. 

Fresh buns were also on offer after a decline in weekend trade, the business said. 

Newy Burger Co is just one of the small businesses in Newcastle giving back. Photo source @newyburgerco instagram.

The initiative aims to help residents in need, who co-owner Ben Neil said included but was not limited to “front-line responders, someone with auto-immune issues, the elderly neighbour that can’t leave the house and go to the supermarket, or just someone that works at a supermarket and got sprayed because they don’t have toilet paper”.

“There’s heaps of negativity and uncertainty at the moment, which is understandable, so this creates a bit of kindness in all that madness,” Neil said. 

Despite Newy Burger Co. being closed on Tuesday, Neil remained on the premises, cooking soup to ensure that there was plenty to go around. 

“We’ve always had amazing community support so that’s how we are able to give back when we can.”

Newy Burger Co. said the newest initiative had attracted offers of help from the wider community, too. On its Facebook page, the business thanked “those who have reached out to support and donate money” but requested that people used the money to “support local businesses that need our help right now”.

Neil said community initiatives like the soup drive often had a “ripple effect”, exemplified by Rarity Wholesale supplying pumpkins for the soup, some of which were donated by a farmer in the region. 

He also expressed his gratitude to Earp Distilling Co. for reaching out and offering products. 

“I didn’t even have to ask [them]. Cameron at Earp Distilling Co. saw us doing the soups and asked how many boxes of hand sanitiser we needed.”

Neil said the distillery didn’t want recognition for the generosity, and applauded the act of “giving away hand sanitiser that they could be selling at the moment”.

He said it was a gesture he had “a lot of respect for”.

The distillery and many of Neil’s hospitality connections contacted him to assist in Newy Burger Co.’s efforts to help the local community during the previous lockdown, too.

This led to the creation of “kindness boxes”, comprising products from Earp Distillery, Pharmacy 4 Less Kotara and around a dozen restaurants. The boxes included sanitiser, toilet paper and meals that “would feed a small family for a week”.

Residents assisted by “donating cash, which the business turned into supermarket vouchers” for those in need.

Onyx Espresso Bar in Mayfield, which assisted with the kindness boxes, has shown support again and jumped on the recent free soup cause, crediting Newy Burger Co. on its Facebook page for providing “inspiration”. 

“Thank you to our friends at Newy Burger Co. for always leading the way with kindness in our city . . . if you are single, couple or family. Just say and we will provide enough plus some sourdough.”

Onyx Espresso has adopted the free soup strategy for those doing it tough. Photo source @onyxespressobar

The initiative has attracted many comments on social media, saying it showed “community spirit at its finest” and that the business was “really active in helping the community” during the previous lockdown. 

Hoppo’s Milk Bar in Mayfield has also reportedly been giving out care packages with their orders, which include toilet paper and food items. 

Residents’ solidarity

An enduring community spirit has not been limited to businesses. Residents are pulling together to offer simple and selfless acts. 

Wickham local Andrew Dunne shared on the Newcastle Echo Facebook page that he’d witnessed a heartwarming act of kindness. 

“I was just at my local café in Wickham and watched a frontline health worker donate $60 for the business to pay it forward to people who can’t work. This is exactly why I love Newcastle and Wickham.

“Let’s all do something every day for someone in need!”

Community group Food Not Bombs Newcastle has witnessed first-hand the way Newcastle community spirit has shone bright in times of adversity. 

Food Not Bombs at Awaba Park on Monday. Photo Source: Food Not Bombs Newcastle Facebook page.

The organisation relies on businesses and the wider community to contribute to its cause. The group offers regular hot meals for the needy in Hamilton, and ensures the survival of its neighbourhood pantries.

On Monday and Wednesday evenings at 5pm, Food Not Bombs volunteers can be found at Awaba Park, Hamilton (Hamilton Station Park), providing free hot food and fresh produce for the homeless and vulnerable. 

Volunteer Quinn said FNB Newcastle was “100 per cent community funded and volunteer run, so we rely on the kindness of our fellow community to keep us going”.

He said FNB’s work “wouldn’t be possible if not for the organic grocers, farmers, cafes, restaurants, bakeries, advocacy and community centres, and compassionate individuals” lending their time or donating.

At last Monday’s meet, meals and fresh produce were donated by Goldbergs Coffee House and Adamstown Greengrocer.

Any remaining, non-perishable stock is often left at the park’s community pantry. The Awaba Park pantry has relied on generous locals donating items such as food and clothing. FNB said supplies were needed urgently this week as a result of the hardships imposed on people by the state’s lockdown. 

A section of the community pantry at Awaba Park, Hamilton. Photo source: Food Not Bombs Newcastle Facebook page.

Despite recent attempts by Newcastle City Council to shut down the initiative, FNB and supportive residents have triumphed in making Awaba Park’s pantry a permanent fixture for the region’s vulnerable.

To assist Food Not Bombs Newcastle, or to donate to their free-food evenings, readers are encouraged to get in touch on their Facebook page.

Maia O’Connor

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