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Cyrena Harris and Cassie Gardiner. © Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn

Anglicare NSW South, NSW West and ACT (Anglicare) is lending its support to a grassroots initiative in Dubbo aimed at protecting vulnerable communities in Western NSW. The project is the work of Dubbo local, Cyrena Harris, and provides at-risk Aboriginal communities with COVID Care Packs of sanitizer, hand wipes, face masks, colouring-in books and specifically designed information sheets to assist with understanding around COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

Motivated by her Christian faith and her connection to her Aboriginal heritage as a Tubba-Gah Wiradjuri Murawarri direct descendant, Ms Harris made the decision to act after seeing vulnerable families struggling to obtain protective items to combat the COVID-19 virus.

‘The Delta variant of the virus is spreading quickly in this area and I wanted to make sure our First Nations people had a layer of protection. I immediately reached out to my Bible Study group and two ladies in particular, Cassie Gardiner and Erica Chesworth, offered to assist me. Our church ministers from Dubbo Anglican Church and Therese Garnsey from Anglicare also came on board providing items for the packs,’ says Ms Harris.

Other Anglican church members are helping to assemble the Care Packs and they appreciate the opportunity it gives them to connect to a worthwhile cause that is directly assisting people in their community.

The first round of packs were given mainly to local Aboriginal Elders, equipping them with masks and sanitiser. High-risk families and people with specific needs, such as children in care, people experiencing high levels of trauma and those living with a disability, received further rounds of specialised care packs.

Ms Harris is finding that many others also share her concern for her community and are coming on board with the project as it continues to grow. ‘An initiative like this, which includes a diversity of individuals and local organisations reaching out to people at this level, gives them the emotional and practical support they need where they otherwise might have fallen through the cracks,’ says Ms Harris.

‘This virus has disrupted lives and threatened the health and safety of so many people, especially the vulnerable,’ she said. ‘But out of such a difficult time we’ve seen Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and organisations coming together to embrace a cause like this. This sort of community collaboration reflects what I think is the true Australian spirit. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of support!’

‘So many people have helped us, and out of a hard situation we’ve formed new connections and relationships in this community. I’m so encouraged,’ said Ms Harris.

The Anglicare office in Dubbo has become a collection point for donations of food and other items.

Anglicare has offices across western and southern NSW, and the ACT, and teams continue to assist people in need, even during these times of lockdowns.

‘People need support now more than ever,’ says Therese Garnsey, Anglicare’s coordinator in Dubbo. ‘We operate in a way that is COVID-safe, but we want people to know that help is available.’

Anglicare also encourages parish partners across the region to consider supporting the initiative by sewing masks to go inside the packs. Material must be clean and not used for other purposes and hands must be kept sanitised during sewing and mailing. For instructions and requirements: www.health.gov. au/resources/publications/how-to-make-cloth-mask.

Masks can be mailed directly to: Anglicare, PO Box 141, Dubbo NSW 2830.

Mailing directly your donated masks to Anglicare will ensure there is no delay in the people who need them receiving them. We will ensure they are stored and delivered to people in a way that complies with health and safety requirements.

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