Cargo supports one of its own
By Marco Holden Jeffery
It would be fair to say most people have gone through some hardship during this difficult year.
But when one Docklands restaurant manager’s 2020 went from bad to unimaginably worse, her community rallied behind her with all the support it could muster.
Maria Obregon, originally from Colombia, was planning a move to South Australia earlier this year - a last-ditch attempt in a seven-year journey for permanent residency in Australia - when the pandemic hit and the move became untenable.
“We had sold everything, we’d spoken to the real estate agent and we were ready to go to Adelaide, then the borders closed,” she said.
Maria was a manager at the bustling Cargo on New Quay Promenade - but when Docklands offices emptied the shifts dried up, and without permanent residency she wasn’t eligible for JobKeeper or other government support.
And then a bombshell - Maria was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was very hard because the first thing you think is ‘I am going to die’ - everyone dies but you feel like you are going to die now,” she said.
After confirming the diagnosis, Maria’s doctors determined they needed to act as quickly as possible, and started a six-month chemotherapy treatment to be followed by a mastectomy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.
Even though Maria had private health insurance, it wouldn’t cover the full cost of the treatment - and that was on top of rent, bills and university fees.
Her husband Adair, who worked as a cleaning supervisor in an office tower, had some income, but with her family far away in Colombia Maria felt very alone.
“When something like this happens, you have so many questions - COVID-19 becomes the last thing you think about,” she said.
But that was when Maria’s family at Cargo stepped in.
Maria’s fellow restaurant manager Vida Luc was the first member of the Cargo team to hear about her diagnosis.
“I was in disbelief, it didn’t really hit me till I called Maria and I could hear the heartbreak in her voice,” she said.
But Vida didn’t waste any time - her and the other managers pooled together some money to keep Maria going, and within a week she had started a Facebook fundraiser to help fund Maria’s treatment.
After a month, the fundraiser had already raised nearly $30,000 of its $45,000 goal.
“Maria is one of the most genuine, kind and loving people that I’ve ever met - anyone who knows her will say that,” Vida said.
“I think it was so hard for us when Maria got diagnosed because of the person that she is.”
The owners at Cargo soon got behind Maria as well, donating 100 per cent of the profits from their grazing platters and sweet boxes to supporting her and her treatment.
And at their sister cafe, the Templestowe icon Down the Rabbit Hole, a special batch of their famous bronuts (brioche donuts) was coloured pink for breast cancer awareness - they sold 600 during the course of a weekend.
After coming to Australia to study English in 2013, Maria started working at Cargo a year later, and the restaurant had stuck by her through thick and thin, sponsoring her at various times in her bid for a visa.
“They were so patient with me - they gave me the opportunity to work with them even though my English was pretty bad, and sometimes you need that opportunity to show what you can do,” Maria said.
“They are my family here and they’ve been behaving like my family. I don’t have words to express how grateful I am.”
Cargo wasn’t Maria’s only supporters - the money and good wishes alike had been pouring in even from people she’d never met before.
And Melbourne’s Colombian community had also reached out to Maria to give her whatever they could.
“A lot of them don’t know me, and many of them are in the same situation as I am - they’re students, or working and earning less,” she said.
“Regardless of that, they want to help and they want to send me what they can.”
With all profits from their delivered Father’s Day sweet and grazing boxes going towards her treatment, Cargo was hoping the community support for Maria would continue.
And Maria was taking the opportunity to stay positive and focus on the good in an otherwise dismal year.
“I’m not thinking about the future, I’m a bit scared in terms of the cancer coming back, but now I just want to finish the treatment,” she said •
“I’m just grateful to be here in Australia.”
For more information and to donate: facebook.com/donate/725142041672721