This is Elizabeth’s story, written by community dreamer, weaver, writer, story-teller and Befriend staff member, Nicola. It’s a story of generosity, of sharing, of caring deeply about others, and of contribution. It’s also a wonderful reminder that from small connections, big ripples effects can flow.
It was a rainy afternoon in Mandurah, but this didn’t stop a small group of locals showing up for an inspiring, impromptu talk at Befriend’s Communi-Tea event, hosted and organised by Community Builder Charmaine Prinz. Elizabeth Oxley, a Mandurah resident who grew up in the Cook Islands, is a colourful character with long dreadlocks, woven with silver and earthy-coloured threads and wires. I was struck by her radiance, her kind smile and the sparkle of laughter in her eyes… even before I realised she was the guest speaker for the day.
Elizabeth volunteers with Feed it Forward, a non-profit group that collects unused perishable food that’s reached its use-by-date from supermarkets around Western Australia. The food is redistributed throughout WA communities to those in need, no questions asked. Last month alone, they redistributed 14,000 tonnes of food to over 435,000 people, from Midland to Mandurah to Kalgoorlie. Elizabeth told us, beaming with delight, “It’s the best job I’ve ever had… and I don’t get paid.”
Feed it Forward was started by a group called Nans on a Mission, inspired by a similar initiative in New Zealand. Elizabeth explained that volunteers co-ordinate themselves and create their own networks in each area. Some distribute food from their homes; others, like Elizabeth, travel around their local area to pre-arranged drop-off points. Anyone can contact Elizabeth via Facebook Messenger to arrange a time and place for a pick-up in Mandurah. Three times a week, she delivers fresh food to skate parks, car parks, and peoples’ homes. “I’ve never had anybody say no.”
One of her most uplifting moments was when she gave food to a couple of young girls who asked what she was doing, how she did it and why. At the end of the conversation one of them told her, “I’m going to do what you do when I grow up!” And Elizabeth called out to them as they left, “Don’t forget that you’re queens!” Sharing words of encouragement and wisdom is an extra gift that Elizabeth throws in whenever she can.
“We’re human. We all eat. It goes in one end, and it comes out the other. There’s no guilt in accepting free food. No one is in charge of anyone. We all need to eat, and food is a life source. I call it sharing the love.”
As a long-term foster mother, Elizabeth is no stranger to suffering and trauma, and she’s seen how relentlessly these can show up in some people’s lives. “Trauma doesn’t stand down,” she told us. Like Befriend, Feed it Forward doesn’t discriminate between those who need help and those who don’t. Everyone is included. Everyone needs to feel loved and nourished.
This was my first time attending a Communi-Tea in Mandurah and I was touched and awed by how quickly the group of 10 rallied around Elizabeth. They were so inspired by her kindness and the difference she was making in their community that they wanted to know how to help. One regular member, Peter, offered to host a drop-off and pick-up point outside the local library and to liaise with Orange Sky who have a mobile laundering service for the homeless. Another member offered to collect food for a large family she knows who struggle to make ends meet.
Together everyone shared ideas about how more could be done for those who are homeless, at risk, or struggling to make ends meet. Elizabeth told the group how she and her husband would always buy a meal for a homeless person when they went out on dates to Perth. Once she asked a homeless man, “Honey, would you like a burger?” He responded with the utmost amazement, “You’ve seen me!” She told us she’d discovered one of the most painful things about being homeless is not feeling seen.
If you’d like to find out more about Feed it Forward, please join their Facebook group. They’re always looking for more volunteers and are a registered Public Benevolent Institution. Their charity “is focussed on giving food without question and restrictions (e.g. health care card, pension card etc)…E.G. No questions asked and No Judgement given.”
Contact Charmaine at Befriend if you’d like to come along to Befriend’s weekly Communi-Tea at Frasers’ Landing Sale Centre on a Thursday afternoon. A place where friendships spark, guest speakers inspire, and our community grows stronger and kinder together.
What resonates in this story for you? Are there any gifts or qualities you see in Elizabeth that you recognise in yourself?
A flourishing community is built on all kinds of contributions – everyday people generously offering small pieces of themselves to make the world around us kinder, more inclusive, more welcoming space to work and play. If you’re curious about how you can nurture community life here in Perth, then give us a call on the usual numbers to see if we can support you to bring people together.