Mayor, Cr Sam Hearn takes us behind the scenes at Rosebud Memorial Hall where Shire staff are preparing the community care packages filled with non-perishable food and essential hygiene items
At a time when most see ‘unprecedented’ obstacles, Mornington Peninsula Mayor Sam Hearn sees opportunity. With COVID-19 lockdowns forcing the closure of many Community Support Centres, Sam (who is also involved in the leadership of his neighbourhood Baptist church community) dreamed up the ‘People’s Army’: redeploying stood down local council staff to deliver care packages to vulnerable and isolated people in the area. The idea came to him after seeing community members share on Facebook how they were reaching out to their neighbours.
‘People have been doing it far tougher than they probably have for decades and decades,’ said Sam. ‘And yet the way that people have just reached out and suddenly become so much more intentional about wanting to do things for their community has gone through the roof.’
The food parcel plan is part of the Mornington Peninsula’s Caring for Community program, intended to help lessen the spread and effects of the pandemic by creating a sense of ‘togetherness’. The council co-ordinated response involved creating a database of all the vulnerable, elderly or disadvantaged people in the area and setting up supply chains directly from supermarkets to requisition food for those who could not get it themselves. More than 2500 families have been supported so far and the formal council response created a ripple effect into the community, with locals sharing approximately ‘ten times’ the resources of the council on an informal level.
‘It cuts through in a different way when someone sees their mayor or a local community leader saying, “This is the way we as a community are going to respond to this,”’ said Sam. ‘So I’ve gone on the front foot very quickly to give the message that this is about checking on your neighbour, call your friends, check in on the older people in your street, make sure people are doing okay.’
It’s not the first time Sam has headed up something like the food parcel plan. As bushfires raged over summer, more than 200 Mornington Peninsula Shire staff came together to offer support, comfort and accommodation to over 1000 Mallacoota evacuees. Sam views the mission to ‘love your neighbour’ as inseparable with community support, particularly in challenging times.
‘I think the biggest opportunity is for the church to truly and fundamentally be a community of people that are really present individually and collectively in an intentional way as good citizens in their local community – that’s always mattered and is always needed.’
Sam has been committed to building long-term community relationships and trust in his local community, seeing it as vital to mission. His first sense of calling was to his own high-school of Mornington Secondary College when he came to faith as a 15 year old and continues now with his role as Mayor.
‘If we as the church want to actually be relevant and present in our communities, we need to build selfless, long-term, trusting, generous relationships with our local community…to support in anyway way,’ said Sam. ‘I think this year will have shown churches across the country whether they are really connected to their community… If you have only turned up when this crisis hit saying “We want to rescue you, we want to help out”, most people will go “Who the heck are you?”’
‘The great thing is that all church communities can encourage and mobilise their members to reach out and care for their neighbours at a time like this.’
Rather than merely an obstacle to overcome, Sam sees the pandemic as an opportunity to serve community, and for churches to reflect on their local community involvement. Bringing hopeful change to community often feels slower than Sam would like it to be, but the pandemic has brought what matters most to the front and accelerated the process.
‘COVID-19 has probably shown us, reminded us and confronted us with the fact that as human beings we’ve always been together at our most cellular and foundational level,’ Sam said. ‘We’re realising that staying socially connected is what matters most to us – being part of community, feeling loved, giving love, knowing our place and feeling a sense of belonging.’
‘This is especially true as we’ve had the heartbreaking experience of coming out of the first wave with a sense of optimism and gratefulness only to see a second wave emerge,’ Sam said. ‘It’s really taking a heavy toll on people’s mental and emotional wellbeing, and a sense of connection and hope is more important than ever.’
Through the second wave, Sam is practically reaching out and connecting with the people he personally is caring for: delivering food to a single dad in his neighbourhood, chatting to other families at kinder drop off, giving the local café owner a call to encourage him.
‘Those simple things can really help people find strength to persevere, not to mention being a witness to the hope and love that is there for them in Jesus.’