Finding purpose and kindness amid the crisis

A couple of weeks ago Bill Mithen and his wife Sarah were out walking their dog and discussing the impact COVID-19 was already having on their local Geelong community.

Bill Mithen, CEO GiveWhereYouLive Foundation

Bill, as CEO of the GiveWhereYouLive Foundation in Geelong, was wondering about how to respond to the challenge. He and Sarah agreed it was important to aim for something positive, that showed the best of the community. Sarah suggested: “Why not celebrate random acts of kindness?’’ Bill paused and then took the idea to the next step: “Well, not that they’re so much random as purposeful acts of kindness.’’ In that moment, a small and vital new element in the community response to the health crisis was born. 

The idea became GPAK – a nice riff on the former acronym of what was once the Geelong Performing Arts Centre – and over a weekend, the GiveWhereYouLive team managed to not only build a website but start to source the stories to drive the website. 

It is all built around the simple slogan: “It’s about supporting and inspiring each other through to the other side of this crisis.’’ 

The stories include the local primary school donating vegetables from its garden to their community; a church providing breakfast and a hot cuppa every morning for those who need it; and the local version of the international trend “We’re going on a bear hunt’’. The website also invites those who need provisions and support to lodge their interest.  

 Bill says there have been an even broader range of stories that celebrate the community spirit during the crisis – some people are happy to have their story told, others only anonymously and some not at all. But it is the spirit of GPAK that’s important.  

“It feels like the right thing for us to do,’’ Bill says. “This is all about our relationship with our community. We hold a very privileged position and we’re very lucky to hold that position. And we hold that position carefully and gently, but it also comes with a responsibility.’’ 

And part of that responsibility has been to adapt quickly to the wildly changing dynamics of the current situation. In any other year, for example, the Surf Coast Trek, would have been an important part of  GiveWhereYouLive ‘s fundraising. But the March event had to be cancelled, and although it was turned in to a virtual trek, it meant fundraising from what was the biggest entry field in the event’s history, came to a halt. That didn’t stop Bill: he spent six hours on the treadmill at home, covering the trek’s 40kms, while many others found similar alternatives to cover the distance or celebrate the cause while observing social distancing rules. 

GiveWhereYouLive is also working on several other projects that are specifically targeted at dealing with the social, economic and employment consequences of the health crisis. It is working with the Donkey Wheel Foundation in Melbourne on a jobs and food rescue proposal that could re-establish a revenue stream in hospitality and re-employ 34,000 Victorians across the sector. Negotiation are continuing with the Victorian government about the next stages of that proposal. 

GiveWhereYouLive has also brought forward its main grant round of the year. The application and grant process have been re-designed and streamlined to make it easier to disburse grants: some will go out in the next few weeks, and the emergency responses and relief support will have priority. Most of the grants will be out by the end of this month.  

Bill has no doubt that this is the time to act. The community he serves needs help now. 

“This is not an economic argument. It’s a mission argument – this is what our mission is, this is what we’re here for,’’ he says. 

“It’s no good saying “We want to hang on to our funds for a rainy day. The rainy day is here – it’s pouring.’’

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