The business of staying alive

By Rhonda Dredge

For some in the CBD, it’s a challenge making ends meet so news of a “Need Help” sign on the front of the Cross Culture church in Swanston St spread quickly.

Ploypailing has two shifts a week as a cashier, enough to pay her rent but that’s all.

Nawaphorin hasn’t had a job for two months and is waiting for a flight back to Thailand.

Both girls are international students and they’ve just stood in a line for two hours to get their food supplies for a week.

“We supplement them with fresh vegetables,” Ploypailing said.

This is their third week in line and news is spreading. “It’s getting longer every week.”

The food distribution centre for international students and temporary visa holders is open each Sunday at the Cross Culture Church on the corner of Swanton and Little Lonsdale streets from 1pm to 3pm.

“The queue started from 10 am,” manager and former international student Wen Wen said. “The line went all the way around the block to La Trobe St.”

He said the people of Melbourne were very generous. “I know what it’s like to be poor. Many students are struggling.”

This is no formal charity, although the church donates $3000 each week, but a groundswell of self-determination run by volunteers with students helping.

Vanessa Nng, a finance and banking student from Malaysia, rushed down with a donation but dropped her supplies on the footpath in her eagerness to help.

“I only found out about it two days ago,” she said. She had a box and trolley full of her favourite treats, plus some sensible items such as toilet rolls and noodles. 

“I don’t have a lot of money but I have savings,” she said. 

Even though the food is advertised for visa holders, anyone with a need is accepted, Wen Wen said. “There’s no visa check but there is a temperature check.”

The number of volunteers has increased from less than 10 to 75, he said, and supplies are also being donated by ALDI in Franklin St and Melbourne Central Coles.

Ploypailing decided to stay on in Melbourne where she’s studying childcare but doesn’t have enough money for her school fees.

Nawaphorin, who is studying English, said she would come back when things got better here. 

These students, who often remain hidden during normal city hours, are now a stark reminder of the business of staying alive.

People are encouraged to donate white rice, Indomie noodles, pasta and sauces, long life milk or soy milk, cereal, canned food, chips, chocolate, biscuits, vegetable oil, toilet paper, shampoo and body wash •

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