This is a transcript of the podcast interview. Listen to the episode here.
PREMA MENON (HOST) Hello, everyone, I hope you're keeping well and safe. It's been a bit of a gap between this episode and the previous one. Many of us are preoccupied with the changes brought about by COVID-19, worrying about loved ones, and about livelihoods. An event like this brings into focus the fact that life can change in an instant. My guest today understands this very well and has built a service to help those who are vulnerable. You might find yourself in a position to help someone today, but tomorrow, you might be the person in need of help. My guest today taught me that we need to approach helping and giving with humility, seeing ourselves as the same as those who need help.
CARMEN PLATT (GUEST) My name is Carmen Platt. And I'm the very proud co founder of the generous and the Grateful. The name gives you a little bit of an idea but we basically are collecting and collating packages of really high quality, used or pre loved furniture and white goods to deliver them to people that are starting their life over again. You may not realise but there are people living rough in their own home, they secure accommodation, and yet aren't able to afford find, transport and lift the big, heavy, expensive things that every home needs. So we're pretty passionate about it because we know that if you're going to have the best chance of moving beyond pure survival mode, and to a point where you may truly be able to thrive, then there's certain building blocks that you're acquiring. We think that a safe warm, comforting home is one of those. INTRODUCTION What can we do? In this podcast, I speak with those who are putting their ideas into action, focusing on the good they can do for their neighbours, communities, citizens and the world. PREMA
Carmen Platt's journey towards setting up the generous and the Grateful started with helping refugees. CARMEN It started from me being really flabbergasted when I saw that there are people that aren't necessarily seen by others that are really struggling to live an acceptable life. I'm very passionate about supporting refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia and wanted to be able to contribute to their lives in some positive way. I discovered that I could be a buddy through Mums 4 Refugees, with families that are establishing their life here and so that I took to quite naturally wanting to give them the best chance of being all that they can be. So it started with everything that you could possibly need in a home and then I very quickly realised that there are many organisations working on food and working on school uniforms. And toys and clothes and, and so on. And yet nobody was able to connect free secondhand fridges, washing machines, bed, sofas, and these were the items that they simply could not get their hands on. So I with their permission, I spoke to case workers and that was where things really started to get interesting. And I think that's probably the turning point where I started to understand that of everybody in Australia seems to think that refugees are well taken care of and receive everything they ever need, and that's really not the case. PREMA Carmen's main aim was really to help caseworkers she feels are often stretched to the limits in their roles. She was focused on her idea that everybody needs a home. And there's a lot of coordinating involved in setting up a home for someone who happens to be a refugee. haven't realised that there weren't such services. At the same time, she observed the different types of conversations around helping refugees and people seeking asylum. CARMEN I actually had this funny moment where you know, trolls are very outspoken. And certainly when it comes to refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia, you often hear a less some polite version of don't help those people when we have so many in need in our country. And it actually made me stop and think to say, well, actually, you're right, because people seeking asylum are not the only ones living rough in their own home and unable to access the goods that they need. So I really started to think about community. PREMA Reflecting on her own life, Carmen was certain that if she had to start over, that she had different types of community around her she could turn to family, work colleagues, neighbours, and so on. This isn't the case for everyone. CARMEN So then we identified that there are some groups of people that those forms of community either have not existed or they fall away for various reasons. So then we said, well, what if we did the same type of work, and we didn't hold ourselves only to refugees. So we then started looking at how to understand what the life cycle I guess of need and recovery is for people escaping violence and abuse in the home. People who have recently been homeless, young people at risk of homelessness. PREMA The Generous and The Grateful started out the back of Carmen's car. CARMEN I was literally the one jumping in my CX-5, seeing how much stuff I could jam in it and then deliver and finding myself stuck and not able to load or unload things as a single middle aged woman from the suburbs. I got very good at asking strangers for help. I really found things then through freecycle and Facebook groups, Gumtree. I was really just aware of the individual items that were around and actually a lot of people who would like to be generous and I don't really know how to do it. So there are other material aid organisations that you can donate your goods to. And everybody says oh isn't it another salvos or Vinnie. So if you've helped anybody downsize or if you've helped somebody who is dealing with a deceased estate, it can be really quite difficult to share items that really should not be going into landfill that I was initially really interested in, in making everything quite easy for those people to give high tract around town when my kids were at school and the ladies in the school office must have thought he goes common again because I'd be rushing to get back from somewhere in Western Sydney by the pickup time and be pushing it and calling a neighbour if I'm not there, can you grab my kids so and then I bought a trailer and then I started renting go get vans because we could fit more in in the time that we had and do less trips and, and then we've got a truck and I really became a mother trucker. PREMA Carmen managed to take it to the next step, thanks to a chance encounter. CARMEN So I was photographing the opening of the incubator at Macquarie University. And when I heard the minister talking about why the incubator was being created, I mentioned to one of the other guests oh that's interesting. I've always been thinking of this as my little project that I do and I traipse around town. And I think there's something in it, but I just don't know where to start. That moment was the real tipping point, because somebody said, hang on, come in and talk to us about that, that has got legs, we can help you with that. We will be proud to have our first social enterprise as part of the incubator here at Macquarie University. And so having somebody else, believe in me, but also to say, we can help you with the stuff you don't know. I remember clearly the conversation with my husband saying, I don't know it seems like we could sort of give this a go. What do you think if I just drive for a while and see if there's more to it? So I think it was really about having somebody else Say this could be more than just us schlepping. PREMA The Generous and the Grateful has grown into a sizable operation. CARMEN We can proudly say that we have just under 50 volunteers. We have a great board. We have a truck thanks to a New South Wales state government grant. And we have a warehouse which is provided to us by Payce Foundation, which is P A Y C E, a developer that is part of a major development that will be demolished in approximately two years. And so they are instead of trying to rent it out, they are so generously sharing that space with us because they understand the amount of good that can come from such a simple piece of exces. In the year 2018, the calendar year we delivered 279 home packages or home deliveries. So some of those are for a private individual recipient, and some are for a small family or a large family. Sometimes it's a microwave and a bed sometimes it is an entire package of bed fridge washing machine, sofa, table, and chairs chest of drawers TV. And we think we're going to hit 500 by New Year's, which is we're only volunteers and we're not funded yet right. So this is the power of pure determination and kindness of a lot of amazing people in organisations. PREMA The organisation has started partnering with hotels in preference to collecting private furniture. CARMEN There are all of these amazing hotels and construction companies that are undertaking a major refurbishment. So for example,Built construction is about to complete a five star hotel refurbishment in the city. And over the last eight and a half months we have floor by floor taken possession of as much furniture as we could from 517 five star hotel rooms. Now that a lot of well made beautiful designs hard wearing long lasting goods that were going to end up in landfill unnecessarily because of the time constraints that a construction company and a hotel might have in a project like that. So it's a really great thing for all of the parties involved. They are not wasting things unnecessarily. They are meeting their corporate social responsibility goals, and knowing that they're making the world a much better place for a whole heap of human beings that are going to sleep better, eat at a dinner table together, sit on the couch together and watch the telly PREMA Late last year, Carmen realised that there were additional vulnerable groups that would benefit from a service like The Generous and The Grateful. CARMEN There's been an interesting turn of events of course with the bushfires. What we realised as we started up for the year is that we have quite some experience in helping people that have lost everything and start again. We made a decision that we would try and figure out how we could share our insights and expertise. I have been boldly contacting agencies and organisations that are quite obviously known for doing work in this area and trying to figure out if there is a place for us if there's a gap that nobody else is filling, that sort of remains to be seen exactly what that's going to look like. But it is really interesting. We organised a pilot delivery where I actually jumped in the truck and went down to Moruya, which is near Batesman Bay, and Bega, and Cooma. And I think that's important because you know, it's not really possible for city people at great distances to understand what's really needed on the ground. And I think any solution has to be guided by people who know what's going on. PREMA Carmen also realised that there might be Rural Fire Service or RFS volunteers who had lost their homes too. CARMEN I went to one of the central coordinators of the RFS basically said, I sort of have this feeling that perhaps your volunteers at their last property may not come forward to traditional charities and ask for the assistance that they would have coming to them. They've sort of used to being the helpers, not the helped. just wondered if there may be instances of volunteers who would have lost their homes themselves. And if there's an appropriate way to respectfully let them know that we are available, if they would like some help in reestablishing a feeling of home. We have been speaking to quite a few individuals or beneficiaries and trying to learn from them what they're going through what that feels like what they actually need. And certainly I think it's clear with the emergency response situation, that there are a lot of people that care quite a lot. And I see the outpouring of unusual donations of goods and sort of not necessarily needed items as great intention but perhaps misplaced. So we're really interested in how to have the conversation about in kind material aid to be directed by what is truly needed and done in a way that isn't a great burden on the people that need the assistance. PREMA The Generous and The Grateful has managed to provide support and comfort for a great number of people, while still being entirely run by volunteers, who are led by Carmen and her business partner, Davida Sweeney. They face two fundamental challenges. Funding is the first challenge one faced by many organisations. The second challenge is far more nuanced. CARMEN The other thing which is probably a bit more interesting to talk about, for your listeners is the challenge of working consistently with volunteers and how people look on volunteering and doing good in the world. So, first of all, we've had to come up with an interviewing and recruitment strategy that is able to weed out people who may be a little more along the lines of "I shall help those poor people". I do think there's a recognising our privilege when we are assisting other people who may not be having such a nice path in this life as as we have. But we are really shoulder to shoulder and understanding our concept is that and now we just have the infinity symbol is our logo. And that seems pretty blah until you really stop and think about the fact that there is no reason why the people that we interact with on a regular basis are facing the hardship that they are and we are not. And we really believe that at some points in your life, you are givers of kindness. And at some points you are likely to be in a position to receive the kindness of others. And there's a real grace in and humility in accepting the kindness of others, it could be quite difficult. So that's really informed the way we develop our service delivery. If you are a volunteer in any capacity, that just because you are not being paid for it, you are truly depended on and I do find it tricky on a regular basis when we are the last priority of people and so people will not come to a shift or not let us know far in advance that they can't do it and debater and I pretty much have to catch everything because we're not willing to let our vulnerable recipients do without reliability of a volunteer workforce can be quite challenging when that is that is our entire workforce. PREMA Despite these challenges, The Generous and the Grateful are committed to the service. CARMEN No matter whether you're young or old, one person in the home or eight, we all know what it's like to have a pretty average day and to go home and think, flop on something or other and just think, okay, pull yourself together, you're going to be right.and face the next day. We can all make sure that people have that place to pull themselves together and face another day. A woman called Anna, who had two kids under five and escaped an abusive relationship. She found a place you could rent but she had nothing to put in it. And she tried all of the normal places that you would think to try and just couldn't get what she needed quickly. And she actually uttered the words if I can't even get my kids a bed, we will have to go back to him. And thankfully the person who was helping her said, look, I've just heard of this new thing. Let me give them a try. So I got the call at 730 on a Saturday morning, when we don't usually work and once we heard what was going on, we did an emergency dispatch. And by bedtime that night she had beds and a sofa and a cup. We had the emergency items out to her. She tucked her kids into their new bed that night. So it only took six secondhand items of furniture to stop her going back to home with her babies, right? That's actually what we do. PREMA Carmen is often asked how she does this difficult work. The question surprises her. CARMEN Since I've started this work, I am amazed by the number of people really pushing to help their fellow humans out in so many different ways. There are amazing programmes everywhere around us. PREMA The Generous and the Grateful has only begun its journey. Carmen and Davida plan to make the idea bigger, better and more accessible. CARMEN The horizon that we're looking at at the moment, is one where we actually build a platform that connects. We're not really all about the transport. There are lots of great transport and logistics companies that are a lot better at it, no doubt, then we are we will collaborate as much as possible with other organisations that are interested in supporting the same vulnerable groups. And I'm really interested in how we connect the supply and demand for goods and services. So we need a tech company to help us build a platform that will take care of that in a lot more efficient way. We've built our own thing, and that's great. But technology will enable that. And then we're really interested in creating effectively some sort of free franchise where I don't necessarily think that Australia needs to have The Generous and Grateful run nationally from here with an office in every state we or every major city actually it's not just capital That made the work. But if we can reduce the burden of creation, and share all of the lessons that we've learned the hard way in the last two and a half to three years. PREMA While all of this may be in the works, The Generous and the Grateful still relies heavily on their volunteers and partnerships, and are always looking for more. CARMEN Whether it's a short term project or you want to help us interact with our Facebook followers online, we have so many fun ways that you can make a difference to people's lives every single week. If you work for a large corporation that you think would be interested in particularly because we're active in domestic and family violence, homelessness and also with a greater environmental impact. Then we are offering sponsorship packages to corporations at the moment. There is not a lot of funding and grants around to support organisations, all of the organisations that do great work and so we are developing some shared value partnership proposals for organisations that really want to look at making a difference in a more modern way. PREMA Thank you for listening. If you liked what you heard, please rate or follow this series on whichever podcast service you're on. Another great way to support this series is to follow it on Facebook or Instagram. Just search for "What Can We Do Podcast". You can visit whatcanwedopodcast.com where you can learn more about each episodes guests, check out previous episodes and get in touch with me.
What Can We Do? is an independent podcast series produced and edited by me Prema Menon. The script editor of this series is Liza Nadolski and the audio you hear has been sweetened by Nicholas Allaire