Hospo CheckIn: Russell Shields, The Community Grocer

We check in with Russell Shields from The Community Grocer about the urgent delivery of fresh food to the towers in lockdown.

By: Turnip Media + Worksmith

The Community Grocer operates 'weekly affordable fresh food markets to support healthy connected communities' across Melbourne.

With the Grocer's profile and importance growing - especially during the pandemic - the group's founder, Russell Shields (left), was instrumental in coordinating fresh food deliveries earlier this week to the towers in lockdown in inner-Melbourne.

We checked in to see how he and his team are going.

What’s been happening the last few days with The Community Grocer?

Well, we have been absolutely flat out.

We liaised with the Department of Health on Saturday afternoon and they asked The Community Grocer to provide culturally appropriate fresh produce to the towers who had been placed into hard lockdown.

I immediately contacted our social enterprise partners within The Moving Feast network to mobilise and deliver.

On top of our existing wholesale supplier, i spoke with Melbourne Farmers Market CEO and Founder Miranda Sharp who then rang around like crazy to help us fill the boxes and ensuring we were doing all we can to support local farmers.

We utilised the warehouse and team of another social enterprise Fruit2Work and delivered 500 boxes of culturally appropriate fresh produce first thing Monday morning, including 500 dozen free range eggs, and another 500 on Tuesday morning.

2. What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?

I had forgotten I had the ability to respond so quickly in a crisis. I was surprised, to be honest, of my ability to be calm under pressure, it was like I was back in full service mode, that hospo mentality kicked in (Russell worked in hospitality for 15 years).

And I also realised the strength of my network. My network is stronger than I realised and they all came together very quickly with a common purpose to help and support. It was amazing to lead and be a part of.

I’ve also learned over the past months that I’m not very good when I’m socially isolated. Not sitting at the bar, chatting with people, talking over a coffee, I need that. I’ve found that really hard.

3. How are you and your team?

As a team we’re always positive but we are also pretty tired.

Between delivering what we’ve had to as part of our regular work through the lockdown we’ve also had to battle to keep our team safe - emotionally and physically - and that takes its toll.

Working with the community the way we do, we hear stories of people doing it really tough, so in the bigger picture, we’re good. When you look at the people living in public and social housing - that’s their home, and you see how challenging an environment that can be, that helps put things in perspective, and their resilience, warmth and hope are a real inspiration.