As I drove down Vale Street, St Kilda I felt energised. The bustle of drop offs, couriers collecting deliveries, social workers picking up orders and the beaming smiles of the beautiful volunteers in their St Kilda Mum’s apron’s.
On one side of the road, the offices and donation deliveries. Volunteers carefully sorting, folding and presenting care packages by age and gender. On the other side is dispatch, making my OCD heart sing. The shelves carefully displayed each of the parcels, prams, cots and need items donated by local parents and corporate sponsors as couriers and case workers come in to collect their order requests on behalf of their clients.
I took to the stairs up to the office to meet with the founder and CEO, Jessica Macpherson. While Jessie kindly offered me a seat, baby Maya and I settled in on the floor and made are selves right at home! I cringe as I think of what impression we must leave, but Motherhood has changed me, and bless her for accepting me for it. I don’t recognise myself most days!
With still the hint of an accent, Jessie is from the wine village of Martinborough in the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. Moving from New Zealand to Sydney selling wine into the Australian market, Jessie was spending each week flying interstate between sales offices, but it was after meeting her now husband, also within the wine industry, she resettled once again by making Melbourne home.
They then welcomed their first child, Carolina, in 2006.
Friends and family were showering their beautiful new baby with such an outpouring of gifts. Really beautiful things, but fundamentally items that Jessie didn’t use. Clothing that her daughter would grow out of so quickly, items that had been so thoughtfully selected, cared for and even hand knitted. She just wanted them to be worn by another little baby after her own.
When Carolina was two and a half her brother Mario was born, sparking the vision of what we now know to be St Kilda Mum’s. Born three days before the Black Saturday fires, Jessie had friends who had volunteered to assist those in the affected areas. Sorting donations they returned with stories of how they were overwhelmed by the generosity of donors but the processes in place to cope with the influx of items had a very skewed result.
“The brand new polar fleece blanket from Kmart, was being prioritised over the king size mohair alpaca and merino wool Onkaparinga blanket, in pristine condition, because it wasn’t brand new. It may have been worth $700. It just didn’t honour the intention of the donor.” Influencing Jessie who is also incredibly passionate about sustainability.
Not long after, visiting the Maternal Health Centre with baby Mario, there was another new mother waiting, but without a pram.
“Why doesn’t she have a pram?” She had walked two kilometres, babe in arms on a 42 degree day. Imagining tripping, dropping the baby, baby overheating – all these scenario’s that could have been overcome Jessie pleaded with the Nurse, “Let me get her a pram.” She didn’t have one to give at that time, but she knew she would be able to find something and eventually when the nurse relented Jessie was able to pass on an amazing pre-loved pram. This mother’s life was transformed.
To write a story within a story, this Mum needed the pram to be able to come to Mother’s Group. She was new to Australia, she wanted to attend but her husband was very wary. It was her Mother in Law who joined her meeting all of the mothers and returned to her Son insisting that “You must let your wife.”
This new Mum went on to build incredible friendships, growing her support network and even teaching the other Mum’s in her Mother’s Group to cook, from which she started her own cooking business! None of this would have been possible without her pram Jessie has insisted sourcing for her.
“One thing, one pram, reset the direction for that family and their integration into life in Australia.”
It was again at the Maternal Health Nurse’s office where Jessie and a group of Mum’s saw the overflow of donated baby clothes by generous local parent’s. But without any order or presentation, the pile was just building and building.
“We wanted to be respectful of the dignity of the recipients, and wanted them to feel these items were from loving homes.”
Together they cleaned, sorted, and presented the donations into gifts that could be easily selected and passed on by the Nurses. It was a Godsend.
In the following years, Jessie took a year away from her paid work and together with her then four year old son Mario would send a note via Facebook advising local parents where they would be, piling up her ute with donations. Knowing it could work, it was with her husbands support as he could see Jessie’s vision for what the future could look like.
Fast forward to the Vale Street Distribution Centre, and you couldn’t do what the incredible team at St Kilda Mums do with new items.
“Each of our Baby Bundles include upwards of 200 items each; hats, socks, bibs, long pants, short pants. Everything from birth 000, to size 1.” And they are presented so, so well!
As Jessie and I discussed, Op Shops are amazing, but the huge difference between what St Kilda Mum’s provide is that there is dignity in purchasing. While we both shared our love for thrift shopping, where we may choose an incomplete puzzle or a broken but repairable piece of furniture, we have made that choice. When we give a gift, we wouldn’t dream of giving an incomplete gift, or a broken gift.
The sentiment behind St Kilda Mum’s is the giving of gifts, but I can’t help but feel that Jessica Macpherson is in actual fact the greatest gift to our local community!
Together with an advisory group meeting each quarter, made of midwives, maternal health nurses and advisors working in the homelessness sector, they share not only what is needed but also the stories of near misses, injuries and coroners reports they have read relating to childhood items.
For this reason, there is a number of pre-used item’s that they are unable to rehouse. And have created a great reference tool on their website (http://www.stkildamums.org/donate/baby-things/), and also invite parents to email photo’s and descriptions of anything they may be unsure of.
“Disposing of unwanted gear takes effort, we are part of the solution but not the whole solution.” As Jessie talks me through the items that we sometimes confuse with what we “need” and what we “really need”!
Nappy disposal bins for example require $35 cassettes that many of their clients just couldn’t afford, when a simple rubbish bag does the same job! Maternity clothes are an absolute luxury and not a part of their collection. Change tables, large and bulky to store, but frankly unsafe in many situations when the safest place to change a wriggling, wiggly bub is on the floor!
The care and compassion for the clients who receive bundles and baby items from St Kilda Mum’s is so apparent. There wasn’t once the inference that “that should be good enough” instead Jessie talked me through how they are continually monitoring product recall’s worldwide, keeping updated with safety standards to ensure all their items are safe to rehome. Even testing the packaging of their clothing bundles so that from the time a package leaves the centre onto a case worker and into the arms of a client the presentation would still be pristine.
Jessie is the only fulltime employee across the entire organisation (with her salary currently paid for by generous support of Perpetual Trustees, one of an incredible list of generous supporters) with the remaining part time employees feeding through from their passionate volunteers.
Also keeping Jessie accountable, is a highly skilled board of incredible women, including a lawyer, accountant, business partnership liaison, fundraising coordinators who together guide the strategic plan. There is the major donors and grant makers, and of course the donations of local families who are gifting their item’s onto their next family.
This all started with a pram, and a photocopy room of clothes!
With vision, passion and true support we can turn this world upside down.
Visit St Kilda Mums website www.stkildamums.org to read the full details of this amazing organisation, and find out how you can donate, volunteer and join their mailing list to hear about upcoming events and news. Also listed are their wonderful sister organisations throughout Australia and in New Zealand http://www.stkildamums.org/contact/sister-organisations/
You can also keep in touch via social media www.instagram.com/stkildamums www.facebook.com/stkildamums