Kensington community worker kicks goals for public housing residents

Spencer Fowler Steen

Living on the streets for two years, Ms Lodge considered herself lucky because the owner of a nearby Italian restaurant used to give her a plate of food every day to help her stave off the near-constant hunger.

Nowadays, Ms Lodge lives at the Ormond St public housing estate in Kensington where she’s devoted to helping the local community through her 78 Seniors program and tireless work delivering fresh groceries to residents.

It’s work Ms Lodge, 70, said she was driven to do because she knew what it’s like to live rough.

“I’ve been extremely lucky to be dropping groceries off to residents’ houses,” she said.

“I was homeless myself and I knew what it was like to starve, so I’m drawing on my experience of being alone and having nothing to eat.”

Ms Lodge runs the 78 Seniors program for elderly locals, which aims to have a bit of fun and alleviate social isolation.

In non-COVID times, the group normally ventures to Williamstown for fish and chips or to see live theatre before tending to the community garden which they built two years ago at 94 Ormond St.

Ms Lodge said the garden was a big hit with residents, boasting flowers as well as vegetables including pumpkins, zucchinis and tomatoes.

“It’s embracing and enchaining the community,” she said.

“Not only that, but it’s also the greenery we need in our living arrangements. Also, there’s a compost worm farm which is beneficial to enrich the soil.”

Ms Lodge said she had recently been helping elderly Chinese and Vietnamese residents get involved with the garden, a process which was “hard at first” due to language barriers but was “really good” now.

Every Thursday, with the help of a member of her group who works for a food distribution centre, Ms Lodge sets up a market at 94 Ormond St distributing fresh vegetable and fruit for free to residents.

If the residents can’t come down, she delivers the groceries to them herself.

 

“We’re all in the same boat, so I’ll help anyone,” she said.

 

If earning accolades was a sport, Ms Lodge would be an Olympic champion.

Ms Lodge said her family had been forced to create a “hall of fame” for all her awards, which hang in her hallway, because “if it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t know what I’d done.”

Her long list of achievements includes National Volunteer Week’s Outstanding Volunteer Award 2016, the 2017 Award for Human Achievement, St Vincent’s Certificate of Appreciation, recognition from the International Honour Society 2017, and the Victorian Homelessness Achievement Award.

While a little vague on the details – something one gets the impression happens a lot regarding her achievements – Ms Lodge said she would also soon be attending an award ceremony at Government House.

“I never thought I’d get these awards, I just wanted to help people,” she said. “It’s not that I want the recognition from parliamentarians. My motivation is feeling other people’s needs.”

After a marriage breakup 10 years ago, Ms Lodge found herself homeless.

“I lived on the streets for two years and I’m extremely grateful for my home away from home, which was bushes next to the public toilets in St Kilda,” she said.

“And I was lucky because there was an Italian restaurant there, and the owner there would bring a plate of food out for me there every night after seeing me looking for food. I never went hungry.”

With some help from Unison Housing and St Vincent’s, Ms Lodge found accommodation, but her experience of living on the streets stuck with her.

Ms Lodge now tries to educate and encourage nearby residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a process she imbues with a good-natured sense of humour.

“I say, ‘hey I’m a Kiwi, I was 100 per cent pure until I came here and you put all your bloody things in me’, and they laugh,” she said.

“You’ve got to lighten these things and take things each day as they come. You never know when you’re going to go.”

When it comes to her age, Ms Lodge doesn’t see it as a barrier.

“My grandchildren are in their 20s and early 30s. They ask, ‘how old are you?’ I say, ‘oh I’m 70’, and they say, ‘geez that’s old’, and I say, ‘you cheeky little shits!’” she said.

For Ms Lodge, the maxim she lives by every day, that actions speak louder than words, flows from her genuine belief that everyone has a good heart, and that everyone is vulnerable.

“Every little bit counts,” she said.

Recently 78 Seniors has been out of action due to the closure of community space at 94 Ormond St and COVID restrictions, but Ms Lodge can’t wait to resume.

“Having a good time is what we’ll do, it’ll be good to see everyone at one place at one time!” she said •

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