By Claudio Donisi                                       


“Opportunity Shops are more than a place to buy goods. They are a place to connect and support local communities,” said Melanie Kent, CEO of Helping Hands Mission, after the launch of the sixth Helping Hand Mission Opportunity Shop at 66 Oakover Road, Preston, on July 30.


Kent emphasised the importance opportunity shops play in local communities, saying “In the two weeks we have opened in Preston, we have had 40-50 donations per day of goods, many offers for volunteering from the local community and new regular clients using the store.”


The newly opened Preston store provides a variety of goods, both new and old at very low prices. Goods range from furniture, clothing, children’s toys, books, homewares and records.


“We have set up the store both to create a great shopping experience for our clients as well as a place for people to connect and come together,” said Kent.


A key feature of the Preston store is the coffee shop and according to Kent, coffee shops have been placed in all their stores as a way of helping people engage with each other.


According to Kent, social isolation, especially for the aged and disadvantaged, is a big problem and already 3-4 clients are coming into the Preston store almost daily not just to shop but also to talk to the staff.


Every dollar spent in our op shops goes back to helping the community. We seek to grow organically and self-sustainably through support from the community.”


The local Federal Member of Parliament for Batman, David Feeney, has toured the Preston site and was enthusiastic about Helping Hand Mission opening the store in his electorate.


“I warmly welcome Helping Hands Mission’s presence in Preston. This is a terrific initiative. It is an indication of great community support for these new models of organisation,” Feeney said.


Kent began the not-for-profit organisation Helping Hands Mission Inc. back in 2006 when working with drought-affected residents of rural Victoria, who were experiencing economic hardship and needed access to low cost clothing and household items.


Since then, Helping Hands Mission has expanded providing a variety of services across Northern and North Western Melbourne as well as maintaining their Victorian regional connection in Loddon, near Bendigo.


According to Kent, over 2000 people every week are fed through their Emergency Aid Program and Community Kitchen and over 1000 children through the school-based Breakfast Program. In addition thousands of dollars in Material Aid are given each week to provide training and employment pathways for the long-term unemployed.


Helping Hands Mission is not funded by government grants or funding. Rather, funding comes from community donations as well as through income from their own op shops.


Helping hands Mission new op shop


“Every dollar spent in our op shops goes back to helping the community. We seek to grow organically and self-sustainably through support from the community. We want to build a long term commitment to our communities by being driven by their support,” said Kent.


Kent explained that there is a real demand for emergency aid with certain groups of people like the unemployed, students and the aged facing greater disadvantages.


Critical to the success of Helping Hand Mission and its op shops are its 170 volunteers. There are teenagers who started in school work experience placements who have continued to volunteer and even people in their 80’s and 90’s.


“They all see the importance of our mission and want to give back to the community,” Kent said.


Committed volunteer and staff member of the new Helping Hand Mission Preston store Christine Ivano commented, “I have learnt a lot about helping people and gained a lot of self-confidence. It is so important. It is so rewarding not just for me personally but to see the difference we make.”


Kent, who originally came from a corporate background, is committed to growing the store and hopes it will have a positive impact on the local area.


“This store helps solidify our place in the community and will help with our goal of closing the gap of disadvantage,” she said.


For further information: www.helpinghandsmission.org.au

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