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Cooking for a cause: Berth and Cargo dish up 1000 meals for the homeless

Jack Hayes

Two of Docklands’ favourites waterside restaurants teamed up with the Salvation Army to provide 1000 meals and 500 cups of soup for Melbourne’s homeless last month.

With their venues closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Berth and Cargo co-owners Jerry Dimas and John Scarda were faced with the issue of excess produce and desperately idle staff.

Instead of throwing out ingredients destined for their customers’ plates or to be the feature of their many events booked during the period of this latest lockdown, the pair opened up their kitchens and put staff to work for a fantastic cause.

“We just want a good news story in the area. We’ve seen how flat lockdown is for everyone. For us, our staff and all the businesses around the CBD and Docklands,” Mr Scarda said.

“We gave [the Salvos’ Major] Brendan gave a call and said, ‘hey, how are you going for food?’ He said they’d been inundated with people coming through, we just don’t have enough to feed them.”

“What better way to get our staff back on site and make them feel like they have got some purpose.”

Their partnership with the Salvation Army will provide desperately-needed relief for a charity who sees a 200 per cent increase in those presenting for their support.

On Friday, July 23, Mr Dimas and Mr Scarda, along with a 30-strong crew of staff and their children, prepared 1000 lamb curries with rice pilaf and 500 pumpkin soups to be sent to the Salvation Army’s Bourke St café.

According to Mr Dimas, this latest lockdown had been the hardest for his staff to handle, but the possibility of helping out the Salvo’s brought them joy.

“We’ve seen with our team meetings, that out of all the lockdowns the staff seem the most down during this one,” Mr Dimas said.

“Everyone’s eyes opened to the possibility of helping out the Salvos and also for their own morale.”

“Yes, we had some excess produce left over that we needed to use, but our suppliers have also jumped on board to lend a helping hand which has been awesome.”

Mr Dimas and Mr Scarda first partnered with the Salvation Army more than eight years ago with the idea of providing meals on Christmas Day for those homeless or at risk of homelessness.

According to the Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle, the partnership has thrived ever since.

“John and Jerry reached out to us back then to see if we could work together on something for Christmas Day. They’ve put on a magnificent Christmas brunch down at Cargo usually for about 250 to 300 people that would otherwise miss out on Christmas,” Major Nottle said.

“The relationship has just been maintained each year to the point where they have staff, including John and Jerry, that volunteer at our café that we run for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.”

“For us, we view lockdowns with dread because we don’t know who is going to present to the window and if are we going to have enough resources to look after them. So, to have Cargo and Berth reach out to us and say, this is what we are going to do, is just brilliant.”

Major Nottle said his team at the Salvation Army was readying themselves for a drop in numbers during lockdowns, however, the number of people presenting for meals had increased each time a lockdown occurred.

“Not only has it gone up, but we have had new faces presenting that we had never seen before. Early on it was construction workers coming in during the first lockdown, because they were uncertain if they were able to maintain work,” Major Nottle said.

“We’ve seen international students turning up for support because a lot of them were involved in the hospitality industry and were stood down. Then, with the last lockdown, it was causal workers who were stood down and there was no safety net for them like JobKeeper. It has been new faces every time.”

According to Major Nottle, the reality was that donations didn’t go up during a lockdown, they often trended downwards.

To have donations of this nature from the team at Berth and Cargo sends a wave of relief for the Salvation Army.

“To have this pressure taken off us has meant we can keep doing what we are doing, which is meeting unmet needs,” Major Nottle said.

“It is part of who Melburnians are. A lot of small businesses are on their knees, but the way Melburnians operate is they often lift their gaze and see that there is someone else in a worst position.”

“They will reach out to organisations like us and say we have something; do you want it? More often than not, it is exactly what need at just the right time.”

With their thriving partnership in full swing, Mr Dimas and Mr Scarda not only have their eyes on their next philanthropic event but have also turned focus to becoming a driving force in Docklands’ post-COVID recovery.

“Docklands has a huge advantage coming out of lockdown. We have these huge outdoor dining areas along the strip that no other precinct has like Docklands does,” Mr Dimas said.

“Coming out of this, we need to work together as businesses and locals to make Docklands Melbourne’s number one destination.” •

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