When clients arrive at refuge with just the clothes on their backs, one of their most immediate needs, unsurprisingly, is clothes on their backs.
Clients staying in Refuge Victoria’s accommodation properties are all ages, shapes and sizes, and providing clothes required getting and maintaining a wide variety of clothing options for all sizes and across the seasons.
“It was a labour intensive, chaotic situation,” says Heather Eastman, Refuge Victoria’s Housing Services and Donations Coordinator. “We’d get clothes, which were generously donated, but we always ended up with a whole lot of one item, like t-shirts, and have very few of another item, like dresses.
“We were also never able to match the clothes we had onsite specifically to the clients we had staying with us.”
While Heather and the refuge teams were drowning in unusable or unsuitable clothing, two friends, Elise Stevens and Natalie Dymond, from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, were having a socially distanced walk during the 2020 COVID lockdowns.
Both women expressed to each other an overwhelming feeling of wanting to help people facing hardship. Both had experience in bringing their local community together to support worthy causes.
After brainstorming ideas on how to use their community organising skills to best help people in need, The Generosity Collective was born.
“We’ve seen firsthand the generosity of others in our community when called upon over the years, and we knew we had a strong base of dedicated, generous and community minded people to begin and grow this project,” says Natalie.
The Generosity Collective receives donations from individuals, community groups and families, which they then disperse to charities around Victoria depending on the specific needs of the organisation.
“For example, we might have a woman in refuge in need of a winter coat,” says Heather. “I can just log into the system and request that item. It means that we’re not having to store a lot of clothing, and it means our clients get exactly what they need.”
When The Generosity Collective receive requests, they source items from what they have in their stock or put requests out to their supporters via their website and social media.
“Being able to respond to a call out for assistance from the amazing agencies that support families in need is what we are all about,” says Natalie.
What this all adds up to is greater efficiency, less waste, and better service provision for Refuge Victoria’s clients.
It also has meant better quality clothing. The Generosity Collective does not accept clothing that is ripped, worn or stained, urging donors to consider this: “Ask yourself: would I be happy receiving this item for my child or loved one?”
Donated clothing that is not suitable is donated to op shops and animal shelters.
Sustainability is very important to The Generosity Collective, whose core work is in the circular economy.
“To be able to rehome and repurpose quality secondhand clothing helps to divert mountains of materials going to landfill,” says Natalie.
Yet, for the families in refuge, receiving clothing that fits properly, meets their needs, and is weather appropriate, provides them with something else: dignity.
“Gone are the days that you see families leave refuge with their clothes in shopping bags,” says Heather. “The Generosity Collective provides us with beautiful clothes, as well as backpacks to carry them into their new lives.”