Almost a year after its inception, the Ararat Community Relief Centre is continuing to help the region overcome the challenges of COVID-19, albeit in a very different way to it began.
Ararat Rural City Council opened the centre in March 2020 as part of its response to the COVID-19 emergency.
The centre offered residents support in several ways. It delivered food and medical supplies to residents, connected them with other support groups, and informed them of the latest restrictions.
Ararat Rural City Council community and events coordinator Robyn Hemley said having support available from within the region had been invaluable.
"It was really fantastic to have a standalone, direct local number for people other than an '1800' number," she said.
Ms Hemley said the centre helped ensure the most isolated members of the community stayed connected.
"We also provided a listening ear for people who felt isolated during that time, especially during the lockdown period, if they had lost contact with friends or family, or lived on their own," she said.
"We would keep in touch with these people during this time. It might be a phone call one week and then we'd ask them when they'd like a callback."
The centre was also integral to connecting people with the appropriate support groups.
"We were able to help with referrals to other services if they needed extra counselling, financial support, we helped people navigate through that process," Ms Hemley said.
The centre was aided by some Ararat-based groups that had redoubled their efforts to provide community support during the pandemic.
Ms Hemley said these groups had epitomised the generosity people had shown during the pandemic.
"The biggest thing in this has been the support from local people to each other," she said.
"One of the highlights of working locally was pulling together a local support network here in Ararat. That made a really big difference to our work.
"On a daily basis, we worked with Ararat Emergency Relief, who was fantastic, (and) Ararat Neighbourhood House, who were also great with their food hub. We'd often get food supplies from the neighbourhood house that we would deliver.
"We did a lot of coordination in that area, and it meant we could protect some of the more vulnerable volunteers from these groups by delivering things for them. It was a fantastic community partnership."
As COVID-19 restrictions have gradually eased, the centre's role has evolved. Rather than helping people stay apart, it is now creating ways to bring people back together safely.
"Our focus is now educating people to live in a COVID-safe way," she said.
"As things are reopening, we are looking at connecting people to different activities and suggesting new ways of getting out in the community.
"We've been supporting community groups with signage, hand sanitiser, and getting them to become COVID-safe."
Exemplifying this is a walking group the centre helped Ararat Fitness Centre launch. The group provides people with a COVIDsafe way of socialising and being active and quickly becomes very popular.
Ararat Community Relief Centre can be contacted by phoning 5355 0980.
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