Reaching out, listening, caring for the distressed, the sick, the poor and the elderly – this is what our Anglican pastoral organisations do. Now they need to add stretching out resources, discovering new and creative ways to care, and combating social or health restrictions with whatever they can muster. All while socially distancing or working from home.

It isn’t easy.

Sue King, the manager of advocacy and research for Anglicare Sydney, says the organisation’s crisis team was activated more than a month ago, but the COVID-19 goal posts are changing daily – sometimes more often – “and we’re stretching ourselves to make sure we’re on the front foot… that we’re protecting everybody”.

How the carers care

“The number one concern is the people who are coming to us, who are under our care,” she says. “We’ve got a number of key stakeholders – people who access services, residential people who live in our villages, our parishes, clergy, pastoral care team, and because the situation is changing on a fairly regular basis, we have to keep updating people on what’s happening so they know what the restrictions actually mean. It’s had a significant impact.”

"The number one concern is the people who are coming to us, who are under our care" 

As of midnight on March 23, for example, no one is allowed to visit residents in Anglicare nursing homes except in exceptional circumstances, in order to keep the most vulnerable as safe as possible. However, the organisation’s lifestyle team is providing a number of electronic tablets for each of the nursing homes to help keep families connected.

“We’re a relationship organisation, where much of the work we do is building relationships with people,” Mrs King says. “We’re finding it very difficult in this new environment but we’re trying really hard to make sure the people we care for are supported as best as we can do it.”

Food for emergency relief is also posing a major problem. 

“Basically, we get supplied by churches and Foodbank but both of those services have dried up. Foodbank gets supplies from supermarkets, food that’s close to its use-by date, but things have been selling out, so Foodbank has actually got no food. As of Monday next week (March 30) we won’t be providing food parcels to our normal food clients.”

What will happen instead, she says, are “e-vouchers” that those in need can take and use at a supermarket.

“We’re going to try and use our op shops to provide pantry food for people when they come in, but we’re not sure how long [the shops] are going to be able to stay open. If people are able to give anything there, we really do need some staple things like pasta and tinned vegetables – food that we would normally provide.”

Handwashing and continuing drought

For Anglican Aid, the fallout from COVID-19 is also multidimensional. Acting CEO Eddie Ozols says the organisation’s experience during the Global Financial Crisis was that revenue went down, “but this appears to be much worse that the GFC… so people won’t have income for various reasons. Yet we’ve got commitments going forwards for our overseas partners and we want to meet those”.

In addition to an expected downturn in giving, any reserves the organisation might call on have dropped in value by about 15 per cent in recent weeks because of the lower Australian dollar.

Mr Ozols has sent government information about hand washing and other measures to Anglican Aid’s 100 overseas partners. “We know people wash their hands, but this is the time to really focus on cleanliness and making sure that people are aware of that,” he explains. “And it’s been interesting hearing back from our partners… what are you supposed to do if you’re in an area without water when you’re being told to keep clean?

"What are you supposed to do if you’re in an area without water when you’re being told to keep clean?"

“However, Angela Michael [from Miracle Ministries in Pakistan] is preparing to translate the information into Urdu, put it in the various communities to try and help people understand how serious this is… and provide of soap and sanitisers in the places where we’ve put in 15 water tanks over the past few years.” 

There are also the ongoing needs in parts of the state (and beyond) that are still stricken by drought. Mr Ozols says that the drought “is off the front page… Coronavirus has overtaken the news”, but farmers and others in parts of regional NSW are “still in desperate need”.

One farmer from the Riverina told him recently that there had been rain, but not enough to make him confident to plant anything, and he was “typical of what we’re hearing from various people out west. 

People who are able, still need to give so Anglican Aid can continue to provide a financial lifeline for those in the bush.

Mental health

People in regional NSW also need another lifeline – that provided by counselling as they struggle in the aftermath of disaster.

Ed Hercus, head of the Anglicare Foundation, says that Anglicare is “not really an emergency-type organisation… we tend to deal with big-challenge, long-term strategic problems in our society. Yet, all of a sudden, we’re needing to adapt very quickly. 

“What we’re anticipating is that the economic fallout of this is going to create a great deal more demand in terms of the most needy people in our city. And the more immediate one that we’re all conscious of is a particular demand upon our services with a mental health component to it. 

“At the moment the foundation is looking to be involved with rebuilding communities affected by bushfires, and one area is childhood post-trauma… When children have been through a very traumatic experience, after a few months their lives are starting to settle down and often it’s at that point they start to have all kinds of triggers, and more symptoms start to become obvious to parents,

“So, we want to establish a post-trauma counselling program for primary school-aged kids… but now we’re thinking, what does COVID-19 mean for that group of kids? They’re just beginning to settle down, and once again the rug’s been pulled out from under them. How are they going to cope with this? And how do we deliver that service? That’s potentially changed as well.

“The simple answer is that everything that we do we’re going to need to do more of it, but it’s just going to be more complex than it has been in the past. But we can still be confident that God is in control and knows what he’s doing so we’re trying to respond in faith to all these things.”

Anglicare and Anglican Aid would value: 

  • our prayers as they seek to care and reach out to the growing number of people who need their help, manage an ever-changing work environment. Please also pray for those under their care.
  • donations of non-perishable food (drop them off at your local Anglicare shop).
  • financial assistance – donations to help the areas in ongoing drought, to provide food vouchers, and to assist with technology to enable greater connection, mental health support and other assistance.