Providing support to the needy in areas of food, clothing, transport and health has long been the ethos of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
But in a ever changing world the work of Vinnies volunteers today extends beyond the traditional meal and petrol vouchers, although they do remain core components in many regions including Port Stephens.
Julie Carey is the newly elected president of the Nelson Bay Vinnies Conference, made up of around 20 enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers who have firsthand experience of the issues and struggles families and individuals face each day on the Tomaree peninsula.
"We are concerned that some people in Port Stephens may not be aware of the work of conference volunteers, as distinct from running Vinnies clothing stores which operate in Nelson Bay and Anna Bay," said Ms Carey, whose husband Gary has taken on the role of vice-president.
"Our stores are a great means of support to the community and we continue to welcome clothing and homewares now that they have reopened following the coronavirus lockdown.
"A lot of our work continues to involve supplying meal and petrol/transport vouchers, clothing, furniture and school needs to families in need, as well as running our popular Christmas and winter drives.
"We are now also offering medical assessments and referrals plus budget counselling while working closely with organisations such as the Tomaree Neighbourhood Centre and the Rock Church."
Ms Carey said that Nelson Bay was fortunate to have a number of experienced volunteers, such as secretary Wal Harris and treasurer Dodd Norris who have contributed a combined 32 years' service to the local community.
"When a new client contacts us, we try to get to know them, identify their issues and work out how they can be supported. For instance, they may not be working because of a lack of skills, so we will look at ways to upskill and provide ongoing support with assignments, baby sitting or whatever is required."
Mr Harris said that the impact of the COVID pandemic on families on the Tomaree peninsula was still being assessed.
"During the lockdown we found our inquiry rate plummeted from about 10 a day to just one day. This could have had something to do with the extra government grants [such as JobKeeper]," he said.
"But in recent days the demand for services has definitely picked up. We have around 200 clients on our books and we are always open to new clients, no one needs to suffer in silence."
For assistance, people can telephone Vinnies on (02) 4981 4835 and leave a message.
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