Blunt razors, frayed toothbrushes, no toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant or shampoo, and threadbare towels. Orange Sky volunteers see and hear of this reality from homeless people on the Mid North Coast, and so Coopernook Pop Up Op Shop decided to help.
What is Orange Sky, and how does it help homeless and vulnerable people living on the Mid North Coast?
Orange Sky is a free mobile laundry service that helps homeless and vulnerable people. The van is based in Port Macquarie, is named “Maddy” and since arriving in November 2017, Orange Sky volunteers have done more than 1,870 loads of washing while sharing more than 2,900 hours of genuine and non-judgmental conversation.
Maddy is one of 29 vans in Australia and if you open her doors, you will find two washing machines, two dryers, a water tank, generator and a pile of folding orange chairs.
While washing is in the machines, volunteers simply sit and chat, and the focus is on creating a safe, positive and supportive environment for people who are too often ignored or who feel disconnected from the community. The volunteers are not social workers or experts on homelessness – they are empathetic listeners and great conversationalists.
Where does Orange Sky set up on the Mid North Coast, and what has been a milestone moment for the service?
Maddy clocks some serious kilometres every week, as volunteers drive her to locations for shifts varying from two to three hours. The service has grown to eight shifts that run across six days of the week, with a team of around 70 volunteers. The van is in Taree on Monday, Kempsey on Tuesday, Port Macquarie and Laurieton on Wednesday, Port Macquarie on Thursday, Taree on Friday and Port Macquarie on Sunday.
Live statistics are kept on every load of laundry as they go into a washer, and on May 10 at 10:30am on our Port Macquarie shift, Orange Sky celebrated the achievement of one million kilograms of laundry. William Lu (pictured) was one of the volunteers on shift that day with Graham Carroll, who also regularly drives Maddy from Port Macquarie to Taree on a Monday and Friday.
Coopernook Pop Up Op Shop co-ordinator Elaine Windred learned of Orange Sky and visited its Friday service in Taree earlier this year to meet team leader, (and Love Pray Do column author, Ainslee Dennis), to find out how its members could support the people who use the service. Elaine, why did you choose Orange Sky?
From a faith point of view, it is because Orange Sky is reaching out to less fortunate people, to people who are struggling, and have different pressures in their lives.
We don’t supply toiletries through the pop up op shop, so we ran a little campaign from February to April through the Lower Manning Uniting Church, and it was supported by the congregation, members of the adult fellowship group, volunteers, friends, and some of our customers also donated things.
Over 300 items were given, including 71 bars of soap, 16 bottles of shampoo and conditioner, 19 bottles of body wash, 21 tubes of toothpaste, 15 toothbrushes, 30 deodorants, packets of razors, wipes, sunscreen, 15 bath towels, 15 washers, and seven hand towels.
In the past we’ve supported the Women’s Refuge in Taree, provided clothing to the Kairos Prison Ministry, and at the moment we have made bundles of baby clothes to go to an orphanage in Peru.
What is the Coopernook Pop Up Op Shop, and when is it open to the community?
We use the word “pop up” because we only open two days a week from 9am to 2pm on Wednesday and Thursday – and on the first and second Saturday of every month. We average about 50 hours a month. It is an extension of the church, and its purpose is for the recycling and repurposing of goods and connecting to the community. It’s as simple as that.
From a very naive perspective I guess, I would like the public to know that when they are donating their goods to us, it’s not just about the money. We are able to send out gifts on behalf of the community through the connections we are making, and I think that’s pretty special.
Why did the Lower Manning Uniting Church decide to open the Coopernook Pop Up Op Shop, and how has it contributed to the community?
We are such a disposable society, and hopefully the next generation will be wiser and learn from our mistakes.
The pop up op shop is all about giving everything another chance, another value, before it ends up in landfill. It is certainly helping my awareness of the need for repurposing and recycling, and when local members bring their goods to us, they know they are helping someone, and it’s not just going straight to landfill.
While it hasn’t brought new people into the church, we are finding people are willing to come across the church lawn to the church hall, and we are reaching people from as far as Mount George, Wauchope, Laurieton and Pacific Palms. It has certainly increased our profile in the community.
It’s another way to connect with the community and to reach out to people who don’t particularly believe in coming to church every week, and faith is not about being seen in church; it’s about how we manage being with and care for other people.
I love everything about being involved in the pop up op shop; it’s almost two years old, and I think it’s answered a prayer for us. There is such a strong sense of community, fellowship, and it offers quality experiences like being able to help others – none of us are young, but we are all willing and enthusiastic.
The Coopernook Pop Up Op Shop is open from 9am to 2pm every Wednesday and Thursday, and on the first and second Saturday of each month at Coopernook Uniting Church in Petrie Street, Coopernook.
To learn more about Orange Sky, visit orangesky.org.au