MERCURY SERIES - Making A Difference
The Illawarra Centre for Community Enterprise (ICCE) is calling on the candidates for the federal election to debate the issue of social disadvantage.
After it was formed six months ago, ICCE identified a number of simple initiatives it believed would create employment with modest government support.
ICCE member Bruno Conte said the committee also wanted local government to help deal with the cause of the problem.
"We want to deal with job creation to end poverty by creating work and giving people jobs," Mr Conte said.
"Because we are an organisation that is looking to create jobs in the region, we thought it would be really good to link up with people like Jeff Dakers, of the Hope Centre Food Barn.
"He is running quite an extensive operation here with a number of volunteers who should be offered paid employment. We think this is a good example of what we are talking about in terms of some of the small-scale stuff that can be done."
Mr Conte said the committee of concerned individuals was formed after two public meetings where anyone concerned could discuss the issue of social disadvantage and unemployment.
There was now a core group of about 15 people.
Among them was Simon Davie, of Sliding Doors, who has developed an interactive website to connect with other people in the Illawarra looking for work at itsworking.com.au.
"But now that the election has been called we want to do a bit of a Q&A with the candidates," Mr Conte said.
"We are going to specifically focus on employment generation and unemployment. We want to invite unemployed and under-employed people ... to speak to the candidates directly."
Mr Dakers said all he was asking was $250,000 a year of ongoing support from the government, council and the corporate world.
"All I want to do is employ five people here so we can make this a viable centre," he said. "I've cut this to the bone. Our biggest problem is because we have grown so fast, we don't have the infrastructure on hand to maintain what we need to do here."
Mr Dakers and his wife, Gally, mortgaged their house five years ago to start the Hope Centre and the Food Barn.
"We distribute food to people in need whether they be pensioners, low income earners, retrenched people, students, single parents and we also supply 10 other local charities," he said.
"We also supply to seven children's breakfast programs free-of-charge.
"We move about 35 tonne of food here a week with mainly volunteer staff. The demand has been so big. With 15 per cent unemployment in this area, people just keep coming through the door.
"I pick up from nine Woolworths stores and eight Coles stores. All the fruit and veg they would otherwise throw away is now all distributed free-of-charge. I wear all the running costs of the trucks.
"We have helped 70,000 people in the last five years. We started small but did not realise how big it was going to get. With the downturn in industry ... I really need government support and council support so we can maintain the levels we are trying to do. We have 20 volunteers and two paid staff."
Mr Conte said ICCE thought the Food Barn was one really good example of where paid employment could be created that would provide a good economic benefit and a social one by helping an enterprise become more self sustaining and commercially viable.