Welcoming Cities Awards for Change – organisation, Your Community Health

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Your Community Health

Your Community Health is in the City of Darebin, Vic

Approximate population 150,000

31% overseas born

1% Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander

To decrease food insecurity and increase meaningful connection among Arabic-speaking communities, they delivered Rebuilding Together – Community, Cooking and Connection Project in partnership with Victorian Arabic Social Services. 

Your Community Health in Melbourne’s north partners with people and communities to deliver health and wellbeing services. Their health centres in East Reservoir, Preston and Northcote meet the community’s health and wellbeing needs. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Darebin had a higher level of food insecurity than the State average. Data from 2015 revealed that 5.8% of households in Darebin reported running out of food and not having enough money to buy more, occurring from once every month to once every year, compared to a rate of 4.6% of households across Victoria.  

The pandemic significantly impacted multicultural and faith-based communities, which experienced heightened vulnerability to outbreaks, exacerbating existing health inequalities. Your Community Health staff witnessed the impact multiple lockdowns had on the local Arabic-speaking communities. Particularly affected were those who lived in East Reservoir and East Preston, two of the most disadvantaged suburbs in Darebin and Victoria. Before and during the pandemic, these areas experienced higher levels of: 

  • people living in public housing (up to 50%)
  • unemployment (up to 16%)
  • food insecurity (up to 12% of households)
  • people living alone (20-60% lone person households). 

Higher rates of Covid-19 transmission and increased racism created further social exclusion for the Arabic-speaking communities. Social isolation was already high, with at least 60% of the Darebin population noting they felt socially excluded before and during the pandemic (Darebin Information Volunteer Resource Service’s annual survey of community members 2019-2021). 

With this knowledge, Your Community Health devised a program to connect local people and families, addressing multiple issues and building social inclusion. Through community consultation and a needs assessment, Your Community Health brought the community together over food. They paid particular attention to food security, a significant issue for the local Arabic-speaking community, plus social connection and engagement. They created a series of workshops and celebrations that increased understanding of good nutrition and connected community members, the local health service and other community services. Over a series of food literacy and cooking workshops, project participants met and engaged with other Arabic-speaking people, health professionals, and staff from community services and multicultural-specific agencies.  

Across six workshops and one cultural celebration day, Your Community Health: 

  • helped 120 older Arabic-speaking community members to connect, making new friendships and broadening their local community
  • connected participants with health and other vital community services, supporting their health, social and wellbeing needs beyond the project delivery period 
  • improved participants’ food literacy skills, enabling better budgeting, shopping, and cooking choices
  • provided culturally appropriate and healthy meal plans and recipes to all participants
  • provided weekly food relief to 1,700 people in 513 families experiencing food insecurity, including residents of public housing and refugees in temporary accommodation
  • organised a cultural celebration day for over 120 community members to showcase food, music, dancing and traditional dress
  • provided emergency food relief for families and encouraged food and nutrition awareness through education about improving food security, promoting social inclusion, and aiding social and economic recovery from the pandemic.

Botrous came with his family of seven as refugees from Sudan in 2003 and settled in Reservoir. He finds it hard to keep up with the cost of living and has been receiving weekly food boxes from the Rebuilding Together project. ‘I am so grateful for Your Community Health and the government funding to deliver us such good quality fresh fruits and veggies,’ he said. ‘The fresh food is more expensive to buy with my low-income job. I have been in a situation where I have run out of food and have been unable to buy more. The weekly food boxes helped relieve the financial hardship impact, as I do not have to buy food for at least three days after receiving it.’ 

Dima Al Tarsha, Health Promotion Officer at Your Community Health, said the project reached beyond providing necessary food boxes. ‘As a food literacy project, Rebuilding Together has successfully responded to household, community and cultural considerations such as food security and environmental sustainability,’ she said. ‘The project has enabled better budgeting, shopping, and cooking choices. It has provided culturally appropriate and healthy meal plans and recipes to participants who felt confident reading and following a range of recipes and food labels after the program.’

Your Community Health continues to work closely with Arabic-speaking communities in Darebin. It has linked participants from the Rebuilding Together project with other local food relief and social inclusion programs, including the Gardening Group, the Together Project and the Our Place, Our Purpose project. With the cost of living and food security a huge and growing issue, Your Community Health not only provides temporary relief but also ensures people are equipped to live healthy lives into the future.

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