During months of gloomy news, one bright spot for many has been learning how many wonderful people in the Victorian community are offering quiet acts of kindness, often to strangers.
Whether it be cooking free meals for front-line workers, sewing and selling face masks to raise money for charity or organising children's drawings to cheer people in aged care, stories of selfless generosity have reassured us that in a crisis, the best in us emerges.
Here we honour just a few of those who have made the long weeks of lockdown more bearable for others, from the kindness of their hearts.
Hand-written letters to support year 12 students
What started as a simple Facebook group for the Eltham community to join forces to create "hero packages" for essential workers has, during stage four lockdown, evolved into a vibrant social movement.
Patricia Callinan created the page Help 3095 and Surround with simple intentions. A new Facebook page, like many others in pandemic-era Melbourne, to preserve a sense of connection.
Patricia Callinan (centre), Bec Russell (left) and Jennifer Niehues of The Help 3095 and Surrounds Facebook group.Credit:Eddie Jim
Someone nominates a deserving recipient and an appropriate package – books, pamper products or afternoon tea - and members donate the money to a local business to package up and deliver the gift.
"It's putting money into local businesses because they’re struggling. And it makes the essential worker feel as if they’re noticed," Ms Callinan says.
More than 20 packages have been delivered or are being assembled since R U OK? Day on September 10, and one very special moment has brought delight to all who learn about it.
Local resident Margaret Murphy turned 87 last month and likemany Melbourne seniors, had become increasingly isolated from her community during lockdown. Ms Callinan called on the power of the group to make her day special.
"All I did was ask people to write a card, deliver it to me, and then I’d deliver them to her, but oh, my God," she says.
Eltham resident Jess Hoyle gets a care pack from Bec Russell, Jennifer Niehues, Patricia Callinan.Credit:Eddie Jim
Ms Murphy was inundated with presents, morning teas, flowers and helium balloons. Children and adults stopped by for socially-distanced hellos and chats. A talented singer, a group member, even lured Ms Murphy into the garden and sang her happy birthday from the street.
In a thank-you note, Ms Murphy wrote: "I woke up the next morning and guess what! That feeling of dread that had been in the pit of my stomach had disappeared."
Now, Ms Callinan's community has set out to create 1500 personalised care packages for year 12 students in the postcode.
The group has made up 1500 care packs, each containing a handwritten letter of encouragement, for every year 12 student in the area.Credit:Eddie Jim
"It's a mammoth task," says Ms Callinan, who is currently living with 480 Curly Wurly bars in her living room.
"It's also really bringing the community together, and I just love that."
In a personal touch, each package will come with a handwritten letter of encouragement from a local stranger, including from residents in aged care.
Students will receive snacks and other goodies, including quality pens for the stark shift from home computers to hand-written exams.
Ms Callinan is organising the delivery of pledges from as far away as Queensland.
Group members have volunteered to assemble the packs in an unused section of local cafe, Platform 3095, and deliver them to the schools before the October 7 General Achievement Test.
"They have no graduation and no formal. The GAT may well be the last time all the year 12s are at school at the same time," Ms Callinan says.
"We want the students to know that, number one, we acknowledge what they’re going through – that it sucks – and, number two, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and life does get better.
'You bake with love and you bake with joy'
Every Sunday in Surrey Hills, Jennifer Aldous, a nurse of 47 years and still "bounding out of bed", pours her heart out on an outside table.
Cupcakes, soups, biscuits, lamingtons and cakes of almost any variety, a market-stall bounty of freshly-made goodness, all of it free for neighbours or passers-by.
In the second or third week of stage four lockdown, when she began Windsor Crescent’s favourite new tradition, the theme was festive – mince pies and Christmas shortbread.
On Sunday and next week, she will give out "children’s packs", including cookie dough they can take home, roll, cut and bake themselves.
"I guess I thought, ‘What can I do just to give some joy. Just a little bit, that’s all’," says Ms Aldous, who turns 65 tomorrow.
"I believe you bake with love and you bake with joy. If someone sees that, they know someone’s made that, someone’s taken the time.
"It’s a little bit of joy in a real shite moment."
The table, which Ms Aldous leaves unattended out the front, has hand sanitiser and extra masks, should anyone need them.
And while she asks nothing in return, people will sometimes leave flowers, kitchen presents and recipes.
"I’ve just said to them, ‘Please don’t give me money’," she says.
"But one person left me so much money at once. I know some families who have not been working and not Australian residents, so any money that’s left I’ve been getting ... vouchers for them to buy groceries."
Ms Aldous, who lives with her husband and daughter, says it’s no fuss – the kitchen is her "place of solitude" after long hours at working helping mothers and children.
"It’s a joy to give," she says.
"People out there are sad. You may not have any money, so just bake them a cake."
The masked mowers of Cape Paterson
Geoff Boer has been invading backyards for more than a month.
He’s up to 48 now, more than he promised himself, and has even started going back for seconds.
Geoff Boer and "Tom", two of the masked mowers of Cape Paterson
His mate Tom and handful of others lend capable hands. But more in Cape Paterson, which is about eight kilometres south of Wonthaggi, are at it too – he’s seen their work.
"The first thing to say is there’s no organisation," Mr Boer says.
"But you can see the evidence. Houses that are vacant are suddenly mowed."
If you have a property in the coastal hamlet and stuck in stage four Melbourne, just hope the masked mowers have stopped by your place, too.
Mr Boer, a 65-year-old part-time accountant, walks his mower up to four hours a day taming wild Cape Paterson nature strips. If the gate has been left open, as they most often are, he’ll also do the front and back yards.
He says the challenge in any foreign yard is navigating the hidden roots and rocks.
"Sometimes you get a bit of a surprise," he says. "I just bought another two sets of blades and a new air filter."
The beauty of Mr Boer's kind gesture is that its recipients won’t even know about it for weeks or even months.
"I would say half [Cape Paterson houses] are occupied and half are holiday homes," he says.
"These people are stuck somewhere. This is just something I can do. It’s not all that significant, but it makes a bit of a difference."
Open water swimming, only when you can't
Open water swimmers landlocked by restrictions on travel have found their next best fix: Pay a mate to swim it for you.
It’s the initiative of the Bay Open Water Swimmers, a group with 300 active members in normal times, but reduced by more than a third in Melbourne’s five kilometre ring of stage-four steel.
Charlie Evans (left) and Peter Hendriks at Half Moon Beach, Black Rock.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
While it doesn’t come with the spring and winter rush of an icy Port Phillip Bay, #swimforamate is helping strangers instead.
Peter Hendriks, a veteran open water swimmer and coach, says the group passed $3000 - all of it going to Lifeline – on Wednesday.
"With people struggling in these times, it seemed the most logical charity," he says. "And I guess we’ll just keep it going until restrictions are lifted."
The premise is both novel and simple. Swimmers who can’t access the water will nominate someone else in the group to swim on their behalf.
Charlie Evans (pink swim cap) with Peter Hendriks at Half Moon Bay, Black Rock.Credit:Luis Ascui
"It doesn’t matter how little or how much [you donate]," Mr Hendriks says.
"For me, every person I swim for I donate $10 or $20 and they’ve been reciprocating that."
The lengths and types of swims are based on request and can be anywhere between four and 20 kilometres.
In the beginning, it was just Mr Hendriks and swimming mate Charlie Evans. Then the idea caught on.
"We’re picking up new people who are saying ‘I swam for four people who are out in the country’. Or ‘I’m swimming for people in the Dandenongs’. We’re getting to know more of our members through it too."
The kernel of #swimforamate stems from Mr Hendriks’ plan to launch a website facilitating runs, swims or rides that raise money for the Cancer Council in the name of people who have passed away.
"I’m a cancer survivor and I got put in this category of ‘you kicked its arse, you fought it and you won’," he says.
"But you know, I didn’t do anything. I just took my treatment and was lucky enough to come out on the other side.
"My sister and brother-in-law didn’t fight any less hard, but they weren’t as fortunate. I want to celebrate the people who couldn’t make it."
Cooking for the vulnerable
For Lorena Ramos, a Colombian international student living in Melbourne, the opportunity to cook meals for some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged has given her a sense of purpose in COVID-19.
The 31-year-old has lived in Australia for two years, studying English and working as a chef at a Peruvian restaurant in the city – until the pandemic stole her shifts.
Chefs from the FareShare kitchen.Credit:Justin McManus
It was a blow, but she signed up to the Working For Victoria scheme and became one of the 150 chefs hired by FareShare to make meals for those doing it tough during lockdown.
FareShare is a charity which uses rescued and donated food to provide meals to thousands of Victorians experiencing food insecurity.
Partnering with Woolworths, ALH Group and the Victorian government, FareShare’s Melbourne kitchen has cooked nearly 1.3 million meals for people in Victoria since March and more than doubled their monthly meal output.
Ms Ramos, who worked as a teacher in Colombia, says cooking for FareShare is as rewarding as teaching because it gives something back to the city.
She says imagining strangers enjoying her culinary creations brings her joy.
"I don't have enough words to express how happy I am here," she says
It takes a village
Living through a pandemic is, on its own, an emotional rollercoaster.
Having another baby is a similarly life-altering experience.
So a month ago when Hannah Miflin gave birth to her daughter only to take her back into intensive care hours later, she was rightly overwhelmed.
When Ms Miflin’s neighbours and church community found out what she and her family were going through, they offered her all kinds of support.
Her friend in the area told others in the neighbourhood how the family was going and soon people she barely knew were offering a lending hand.
Hannah Miflin with her daughter Aisling, was overwhelmed by the support she received from her neighbours and church community when Aisling went into intensive care after birth.Credit:Justin McManus.
Her church group banded together and got the family over $700 in food delivery vouchers and friends took in her toddler for a few days while she and her husband were tied up at the hospital.
Someone even dropped off their spare car so the parents could take shifts watching over their newborn, because COVID restrictions at the hospital meant they couldn’t be in the room at the same time.
With Ms Miflin’s family up in Sydney, she says it is the support of her community that is carrying her through this time
"Because we’ve got a three-year-old, we had to rely on our community heaps here and it was just incredible."
Their neighbour, Maria O’Driscoll, came to the rescue to watch over their daughter while Ms Miflin and her husband went to the hospital during the night.
Ms O’Driscoll says she knew her neighbour would have done the same for her.
"It’s really nice to have that community feel and to support each other," she says.
"We’ve got a great little group of mums locally and we all catch up and keep in contact with each other, so it’s really good to be able to provide that support."
Ms Miflin says the experience her family has gone through during COVID reminds her that people want to look out for each other.
"We are not designed to live as islands in isolation," she says.
"It takes a village, right?"
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