By Derek Schlennstedt
There are a small number of people, groups and organisations in the Dandenong Ranges that have become synonymous with the region.
These people and groups have not become well known for their names, but for displaying the qualities for which the hills are known.
Here at the Mail we love our community and we enjoy highlighting the achievements of the many inspiring individuals and organisations in the region that give back so much – the only tough part is trying to whittle down the list of candidates because, let’s face it, there are too many to mention in just one edition.
But, in 2019 there was one group which stood out amongst the rest, and which displayed everything the Dandenong ranges is, and should be.
The moment you walk through the glass sliding doors at the Dandenong Ranges Emergency Relief Service you are given some food, perhaps some financial help, but above all, you’re welcomed with a smiling friendly face, a sympathetic ear and the assurance of help.
An emergency relief centre is just as its name suggests – a place established to provide support and essential needs to persons affected by an emergency.
Aptly called the Dandenong Ranges Emergency Relief Service and worthy of the name, the not-for-profit group has been supporting people in the Dandenong Ranges for over 20 years.
The organisation was created by Pastor Frank Watson who had a vision. A complete vision to help others.
“As an ordained minister, a part of my ministry is to help others and this was set up to help others in need,” he said.
“We started off with just me and my wife giving out food wherever we could and to people who were referred to us, and from the referral we delivered the parcels to the people who needed it most.
“It just grew from there and as it grew the organisation changed a little bit, the dynamic changed a little bit, the methodology changed a little bit, but the basic function of what we were doing – helping those in need – never changed and still hasn’t.”
Twenty years since it formed, and DRERS has gone on to help thousands of people. The volunteer network has expanded and so too has their coverage area.
Each year, across the Dandenongs, hundreds of individuals and families come to DRERS for help meeting day to day expenses or paying unexpected bills. While the organisation also offers support in the form of food, food vouchers, payment of prescriptions and clothing vouchers, CEO Tania Bevan said it was DRER’s main mission to support people as they seek to make changes in their lives.
To do that a holistic approach is taken to each and every person that comes in, and volunteers walk alongside clients as they develop plans to achieve their goals.
“We help our community by providing a non-judgemental place for them to come and talk about what they need assistance with,” Ms Bevan said.
“It’s really providing a place in the community where people can come in and feel like they belong.”
Ms Bevan has worked at DRERS since 2008 and agreed with Pastor Frank that the dedication of volunteers – which number over 50 – is paramount, along with the contribution of the wider community.
“An organisation like this doesn’t just rely on one person. There’s 50 volunteers that are behind it, and they all pull their weight to make it work,” Ms Bevan said.
“I’m grateful for the support that the volunteers give to the community and am grateful for the support that our community gives to the organisation, because it’s the effort of everybody that makes it happen.”
“We help people, but we need help to do it.”