The Upside to Downtime

28 April 2020

The temporary closure of a school cafe has led to a boost in support for Baw Baw Food Relief, a local not-for-profit organisation feeding community members in need.

The Warragul Campus of Community College Gippsland was closed in March following corona virus restrictions on education providers. While most staff have transferred to working from home, a more creative approach was required to find safe, meaningful work for the team responsible for running the organisation’s Community Café. 

“Our café normally provides subsidised meals to help our learners access affordable, healthy food,” CEO Sue Geals said. “Our organization wanted to continue to make a difference somehow, especially knowing how the virus has impacted so many people in our community.”

It wasn’t long before inspiration hit.

“I had seen some stories of restaurants reaching out into their communities, redeploying their chefs and kitchens to focus on feeding people in need,” Ms Geals said. “I thought, ‘we could do that’. We decided to reach out to Baw Baw Food Relief and see what we could do to contribute.”

An initiative of the region’s combined churches, Baw Baw Food Relief receives donations of produce from local businesses and supermarket chains and redistributes the goods to people in need.

“We offered to redeploy our Café team into preparing meals for the relief centre,” Ms Geals said.
“It’s a bit of a mystery box challenge. We receive some of the donations of fresh produce from the food bank. We add protein where needed and whatever pantry staples we can access. Our amazing chef Jenny then transforms it all into delicious, nourishing meals.”

In the first week, the Community College Gippsland kitchen created 95 meals, including soups, casseroles, lasagna and a dessert of stewed apples.

“It has been such a satisfying way to support our staff and give back at the same time,” Ms Geals said. “We have a long history of partnering with community groups on innovative projects, but this has certainly been one of the tastiest and most heart-warming!”

Anne Pascoe, Manager of Baw Baw Food Relief, said that the service had been supporting local people, couples and families to access food supplies for almost 17 years.

“People from all walks of life know that they will be welcomed and helped here,” Ms Pascoe said. “We provide access to quality produce, ingredients and meals, as well as toiletries and a friendly ear. Each year, demand for these types of services continues to grow.”

Speaking of the new partnership with Community College Gippsland, Ms Pascoe said that the cooked meals provided a particularly valuable asset to food relief.

“The benefit is two-fold,” Ms Pascoe explained. “Cooked meals are really important for community members who don’t have the mobility, equipment or know-how to cook for themselves. They also extend the life of our fresh produce, by transforming fruit and vegetables into meals that can be frozen and enjoyed later.

“It’s great to see the community come together, especially at a time like this.”

People in need of emergency food support can access Baw Baw Food Relief daily between 10am-12pm at the warehouse at Pearse St, Warragul. Donations of funding, everyday personal supplies and even home-grown produce are warmly welcomed from the community. More information, including the organisation’s response to COVID-19, can be found at

For further information, please phone (03) 5622 6000 or email