Belong Community Centre– Fostering Belonging and Support in the Acacia Ridge Community.

 For over two decades, Belong at Acacia Ridge has been providing a safe and welcoming centre, offering a space where individuals can feel comfortable accessing essential support. Supported by Communify, Belong is part of a network that includes several community centers across Brisbane that are working together to empower and support Brisbane residents.

The Belong Community Centre provides many services and programs to Brisbane South Side residents, including the Food Co-op, Emergency Relief, Skilling Office and Programs, Community Support Worker and the community navigator program, English and citizenship classes, free community lunches and community art classes. In addition to community events such as Party in the Park or RSPCA People and Pets Day.

Neighbourhood Centre Coordinator Miranda and Support Worker Trish are part of the incredible team at Belong.  Miranda has been working in Neighbourhood centers since the 90s and has a passion for creating spaces for the community to connect and receive assistance. Trish’s motivation stems from a very personal connection with Belong, as she explained:

I started here as a client and I got some help and then I started volunteering, then I did their business admin course through Skilling Queenslanders for Work, and then they offered me a job at reception. That was 7 years ago. So, I really believe in these places because of my own experiences.” – Trish

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The Skilling Queensland for Work program, vital in assisting community members like Trish, goes beyond training. Kylie, the Coordinator, emphasises its role in creating connections and providing holistic support:

“Everyone comes together and connects and it’s not just about the services, it’s also about the connection with each other. It crosses over too, sometimes we have participants who need assistance so they’ll be referred to our Food Co-Op… so we can help them to keep them in the training so then they can go on and get the job. Get back on your feet and in a position where you can support yourself.”

Another large part of helping community members get back on their feet is the Food Co-Op which is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. In the last financial year, it provided a staggering 26.7 tonnes of food relief, serving over 4,935 individuals. However, the demand has surged, with daily visitors increasing significantly, a trend Miranda observes:

“The demand is increasing, so I think we were getting maybe about 25 people a day, 12 months ago, and now we’re getting around 50 people a day.”

Those visiting the Food Co-Op include those who typically never have had to as Trish commented:

“The need for food has grown exponentially. One thing we’ve really noticed is that we have couples coming in who both work, and are still needing food assistance, so the increase in electricity and the rent increase, people just aren’t making it from week to week.”Trish

The Food Co-Op couldn’t operate without the assistance of the incredible volunteers who assist with the pickup of food from Foodbank and other food rescue organisations, restocking of shelves, packaging fruit, and vegetables, and helping run the Co-Op.

The Co-Op operates on a raffle system, a volunteer takes each individual’s name for the draw. After this, names are randomly drawn to determine the order of who can access the Food Co-Op, as the limit is 2-3 people at a time. This also assists the volunteers and workers in ensuring everyone has access to food and no one goes without.

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This welcoming space embraces individuals from diverse backgrounds, including asylum seekers and refugees. Miranda highlights the trauma associated with food scarcity faced by some clients, stemming from years spent in refugee camps:

“We’ve got people here who have spent 16-18 years in refugee camps, and they come here, and they get panic-stricken about food. It’s a trauma response around food because maybe tomorrow there will be no food. They’re not being greedy, they just want as much as they can get because they did not have access to fresh food.”

Staff and volunteers navigate this sensitively, aiming to provide a safe haven. Trish explained the fight or flight instinct over food:

“When you’re in survival mode you can’t blossom, you can’t grow, every day it’s a fight just to exist. Foodbank is giving organisations like Belong the opportunity to help people have a little bit of freedom.” Trish

Miranda underscores the crucial role of Foodbank and our donors, emphasising how access to food enables Belong service users to fulfill basic needs and take significant strides forward in their lives.

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“We couldn’t really operate without the donors of Foodbank and being able to access the food for people and how essential food is really. Without food people can’t move on, they can’t do training, they can’t do anything because they’re just focused on their basic needs, so it allows people to take that next step.” – Miranda

Belong stands as more than a centre—it’s a sanctuary, where individuals find the support, resources, and understanding they need to truly Belong.

If you are in a position to help Foodbank Queensland provide more food across the state to support Queenslanders in need, please consider joining the fight against hunger as a regular giver.