Volunteer Wellington: The Vinnies Powerhouse

Article from the Volunteer Wellington, Issue 35 Newsletter.

Millie Lambess is the Communications and Marketing Manager at St Vincent de Paul (Vinnies). We meet at their Newtown premises. It is a hive of activity: bursting at the seams with projects to support sustainability and social well-being. Next to the room where we meet, a small group are manufacturing alter breads.

They produce 80% of the wafers used in New Zealand. Quite incredible considering how small the kitchen is,’ says Millie. This project has been going for 30 years, providing employment and social connection for a small team with intellectual disabilities, one of whom has been here for twenty years.

This small team with a huge output epitomizes the kaupapa of Vinnie’s and the impact they have in the community. After our meeting Millie is heading to Auckland to the NZI Sustainable Business Network awards. The Vinnies Re Sew project is a finalist in the ‘Going Circular’ category and going ‘head to head with some huge corporations’ as Millie puts it.

This is a testament to the innovation, vision and tenacity of Millie and her colleagues. Caroline O’Reilly, the Textile Recycling Coordinator, heads the Re Sew project which has an impressive purpose. It came into play when the team were brainstorming around how to deal with the mountain of donated clothing which arrives at Vinnie’s week after week.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume. Waste is the “bread and butter” of opportunity shops. The Re Sew project gives us the opportunity to deal with this in a responsible way. We had an audit with the Sustainability Trust through their “Your sustainable work place” programme.

A shift in thinking through this process led to the Re Sew project which is giving value back to waste by re-purposing donated clothing unsuitable for the retail shop. The project fulfills a welfare need as well as an educational purpose in terms of skill building for the volunteers who participate. It can also provide a pathway back to work, reduce social isolation and improve community connections by working in conjunction with other organisations that have opportunity shops. It is an impressive project.

People from all walks of life are engaging in Vinnie’s Re-sew. The challenge is to support these folks whilst finding a balance in terms of creating a product for sale, which Caroline O’Reilly and the Re-Sew team is achieving.

Alongside this Vinnies are involved in other projects such as the recent POP UP FREE SHOP on World Day of the Poor, giving people a ‘shopping experience without the cost’. Free food and good company with other members of the community were also on offer on the day. A team from Mercer Ltd helped out with the preparation for this event.

Vinnies continue to work in collaboration with the Wellington City Council and other NGOs to fulfil their mission to ‘give a hand-up, rather than a hand-out, breaking the cycle of poverty’.

A recent operational change with our food parcels and with our Xmas gift shop has been giving people choice over what they receive from us rather than us assuming this.’A conscious drive towards a sense of agency for people in need.

Millie hoists her bag over her shoulder and heads out the door to the awards event in Auckland. Regardless of the outcome, St Vincent de Paul are already winners.

The Altar Bread team - Victor, Ngareta, Ethan, Donna and Karin (missing members - Michael & Nicole)

The Altar Bread team - Victor, Ngareta, Ethan, Donna and Karin (missing members - Michael & Nicole)

Mercer Ltd and Treehouse Volunteers at the Pop-Up Shop prep day.

Mercer Ltd and Treehouse Volunteers at the Pop-Up Shop prep day.