Volunteers provide a measure of care for victims of war and disaster

Volunteers provide a measure of care for victims of war and disaster

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Inside the Atrium at Federation Square, amid a sea of high-vis and with their hair swept up under blue bouffant caps, a group of volunteers work with military precision.

Teams carefully measure out tiny orange lentils, ready to be mixed with rice, oats and sachets of essential nutrients.

Volunteers Sochini Pryaratne and Nitusha Sathananthan help prepare a food package.Credit: Chris Hopkins

Enough food to feed five people is poured into a brown paper bag. Soon, 100,000 of these emergency relief meals will be sent by the Royal Australian Air Force to people affected by the war in Ukraine and the earthquake that recently hit Turkey and Syria.

Earlier this year, Melbourne teenager Sochini Pryaratne helped pack meals for people in her homeland of Sri Lanka caught up in an economic crisis.

The experience left a lasting impression, compelling her to volunteer again alongside another 1200 people who had signed up to make meal kits on Saturday.

“Seeing the impact things like that had on people that are close to me meant a lot,” the 16-year-old said. “I wanted to help again because knowing you’re doing something for others is such a nice feeling.”

Volunteers busy at work in the Atrium at Federation Square.Credit: Chris Hopkins

Fran Mikulicic has witnessed the devastation caused by the Ukraine war after taking in two refugee families at his home in Croatia.

Mikulicic, who was visiting Melbourne this week for an international conference for the Rotary Club of Australia, the charity that organised Saturday’s event, said he was helping in the hope of replicating the event at home in Croatia.

“Turkey and Ukraine are our neighbours, so I have been involved in a lot of charity work to help them back in Croatia,” he said. “But it has been special to see how the Australians come together to do something for countries overseas experiencing wars and disasters, and to learn from them.”

One of the organisers, Greg Harbour, said the event was driven by demand among younger volunteers who wanted to work on projects that are hands-on and provide social interaction with other like-minded people. He said it was a collaboration between Rotary members and the FORaMEAL project – an initiative to provide emergency relief meals for people overseas experiencing crisis.

“We find that people have a great time and there is this nice social vibe,” Harbour said. “But they are also doing something tangible.”

Ingredients for the meal kits were supplied by charity worker Quin Scalzo, who arrived in Australia from Italy in 1955 with very little and founded a multimillion-dollar nut-importing and distribution business from his Burwood home in 1977.

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