How Southlake Marketplace, at Cooranbong, helps battlers and the homeless | photos

CHRISTINE Mastello admits she can’t bear to see struggling locals go without.

Whether they’re short on food, money, clothes, or even toys for their kids at Christmas, locals can find relief every week at Christine’s Southlake Marketplace, at Cooranbong.

Hugs are freely given and received, and Christine is involved in many of them.

“People just walk in and give me hugs,” she said.

“The thing I like most is that we’ve been able to build up a little community here. Everyone knows everyone, and it’s a friendly, welcoming place.”

In the past 12 months, Christine and her team of nine volunteers have helped 4500 people. That’s cause for a lot of hugs.

Some of her customers are homeless.

Others are elderly folk who live alone.

And many are battlers, doing their best to make ends meet.

Southlake Marketplace, which opens on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at Cooranbong Community Centre, is first and foremost about food.

It is open to Centrelink recipients and those earning less than $45,000 a year.

“People come in and for a minimum spend of $5 they can take as much bread as they need, as well as a bag  of fruit and vegetables,” Christine said.

Customers can also purchase discounted items off the shelves.

For 60c there are packets of chips, tins of baked beans, and soups.

The $1 shelf includes tinned vegetables, cans of spaghetti, and bottles of tomato sauce.

Spend $2 for a taco kit, or $3 for kitchenware items from the Jamie Oliver range.

“We’ve just had two freezers donated to us by the community, so we are now offering frozen chickens, turkeys, chips and pies,” she said.

“Some people will come in and spend $60 and do their entire weekly shop here.”

The centre purchases its food from Foodbank NSW/ACT, and receives donated produce from Terrina’s Fruit and Veg, at Cooranbong.

Local schools also hold food drives which they donate to the centre.

Since founding the organisation four years ago, Christine has added services.

Once a month, Southlake Marketplace packs up donated pillows, scarves and blankets and adds them to boxes of food to be collected by the charity Helping the Homeless for distribution among local homeless people.

Twice a month, the centre will put together food packs and simply give them away. “It’s not in me to see people going without,” Christine said.

Last Christmas the centre gave away 120 hampers, and supplied toys for 160 local children.

The centre is also a provider for Hunter Region No Interest Loans.

Eligible customers can borrow up to $1200, with repayments of $30 a fortnight, financed by Good Shepherd Microfinance.

“It seems everyone needs money for a computer,” Christine said of the loans.

“I’ve also had two ladies borrow money for a mattress and a lawnmower,” she said.

There’s even an Eftpos terminal at the centre now.

While the marketplace is mostly a place of happiness and love, Chistine said there was sorrow, too.

She said she was sometimes distressed by elderly customers who came to her with stories of being abused – often by their families.

“It’s a huge issue,” she said.

  • Southlake Marketplace is at 614 Freemans Drive, Cooranbong. Phone 0432 580 059.