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How AusRelief’s Cheryne El Hawat found a solution to food aid embarrassment

When Cheryne El Hawat and her charity AusRelief encountered struggling families who were still reluctant to accept donated food, they found a simple but effective solution: Woolworths bags.

For some people, it is simply a matter of pride. They don’t want their neighbours, family members or children’s school friends to see them unloading boxes of food aid. Putting it in branded supermarket bags lets them “maintain their dignity”.

Cheryne El Hawat, chief operating officer at AusRelief, won the “emerging leader” award at this year’s Sydney Awards.Credit: Brook Mitchell

It’s a common sentiment heard at food banks and charity drives across Sydney – for families who need help, overcoming their own sense of shame or embarrassment is often the biggest hurdle.

El Hawat, the chief operating officer at AusRelief, received the Committee for Sydney think tank’s “emerging leader” award on Wednesday night for her role in helping feed the hungry in south-western Sydney and beyond.

The medium-sized charity was established in 2014 and predominantly works on overseas projects, including in Cambodia where El Hawat runs the office. But as the cost of living crisis has worsened, her work at home has grown markedly.

During the pandemic, the charity partnered with Cumberland Council, which takes in areas such as Auburn and Greystanes, to deliver emergency relief packages that included cereal, juice, pasta and wipes. El Hawat says volunteers brought back horror stories of people isolated who had lost their jobs, were isolated from their families and couldn’t feed their children.

They realised one of the best ways to get donations to families who needed it most was through school welfare officers, who know their community inside out. AusRelief currently has about 20 schools on its list, and the figure is growing.

“We sponsor a few breakfast clubs at some public schools,” she says. “We were being told the meals [the children] were having at school were sometimes the only meals that they were having.”

El Hawat, 30, grew up in Greenacre near Bankstown, the daughter of Lebanese migrants. She has degrees in law and psychology from the University of NSW, but was never interested in a corporate legal career, instead joining AusRelief as a volunteer five years ago and rising rapidly thanks in part to her frankness.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/pride-can-be-a-barrier-for-those-in-need-this-sydneysider-found-a-solution-20230815-p5dwq7.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_national_nsw How AusRelief’s Cheryne El Hawat found a solution to food aid embarrassment

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