Place-Based Resilience: Community Driven response and recovery in a time of COVID-19


Hands Up Mallee (HUM) is a social impact initiative based in Mildura in the Northern Mallee region of Victoria, Australia. HUM was established to bring local leaders and community together to address social issues and improve health and wellbeing outcomes for children, young people and their families.

HUM has a history of responding to issues locally with actions and investments that will have the most meaningful impact. Decisions are always made in consultation with those who best understand the needs and challenges of individuals, families and the community. Actions are then tailored to these specific needs and underlying causes.

Informed by community priorities, HUM currently has a ‘preventative focus’ and specifically works with 0-25 years in the community to ensure everyone has the best start in life and that the voice of young people is reflected in decision making.

Supporting the system through partnerships and coordination

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and Australia began to implement health measures such as social distancing and the closure of schools, the HUM team asked themselves whether their current work was the most important thing their community needed right now. With the closure of businesses and many local services, as well as the loss of jobs, many people in the community had begun experiencing severe financial distress. This was manifesting itself in food scarcity for many families. HUM decided that, given their history of partnerships and coordination, to pause many programs and to pivot to supporting the local relief effort.

HUM was quickly tasked by the Local Council to lead the convening of more than 16 organisations to create a partnership focused on emergency food relief. For the first time ever, these organisations began working together.

Adapting and innovating to fill critical gaps

A central food hub was established at the Ethnic Community Council offices. Schools that had previously partnered with HUM on a breakfast program for vulnerable students began to pool this food for distribution via the hub. Knowing that many families would not be comfortable in putting their hand up and asking for help, food was then distributed to neighbourhood houses and other trusted conduits to ensure families could get the food they need. A special neighbourhood hour, run by volunteers, was set up for those who were fearful of coming to the attention of government, such as undocumented migrant workers. This meant food could be obtained discretely and without paperwork for families. HUM also began inviting service providers to begin to share data about local community demand and capacity, so that services that were overburdened could share their load with less busy providers.

Helping create and maintain connections to services and support

In cases where families need help but won’t identify themselves to the intake team or present to an Emergency Food Relief provider due to stigma and shame, Schools began to partner with welfare providers in dropping off food to vulnerable families. For many service providers, this is the first time they’ve worked with a third party such as a school and represents a radical new way of working. School wellbeing officers began doing contactless deliveries, and then calling the families to follow-up to see if they have received the pack, but also as a conversation starter to check in on welfare.  This has also become a way for schools to maintain connections with children at risk of becoming disengaged from school.

When other schools outside the local government area began asking for help in providing food to distressed families, HUM was able to coordinate services to meet their needs as well, despite being outside their ‘jurisdiction’.

New partners are constantly signing up to join the initiative, with different organisations with trusted pathways to vulnerable families stepping into the ring. For example, organisations such as the Clontarf Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that assists in the education and employment of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, has begun to assist in delivering the food parcels.

In addition to food relief, HUM observed that many face-to-face based local services were being suspended. They began to work with important maternal and child health providers to support them in moving their programs online. They even coordinated the shift to online music classes that pair elderly residents in aged care with families with young children, to learn music together. Music student interns began running these sessions.

Tailoring communications to suit local contexts and audiences

‘Hello neighbour’ cards were produced by HUM to go out with food parcels, providing a gateway to referrals and all sorts of local support. Importantly a single local phone number was included to make is less intimidating or confusing for people to pick up the phone and ask for help.

Advocating on behalf of the community to the wider system

HUM is in the process of surveying youth in the community (with a survey designed by youth) to find out how COVID-19 has affected them and what their concerns and needs are.

Read the full report here – Place-Based Resilience: Community Driven Response and Recovery in a Time of COVID-19