Lydia Hollister-Jones - Westfield Local Heroes 2020
Giving food and creating connection
Gratis Free Store
Compassionate. Selfless. Contagious.
Lydia Hollister-Jones has achieved something special in her community.
She leads the Gratis Free Store to redirect high-quality surplus food from local cafés to people in need at the local community hall.
The initiative is providing more than Lydia envisaged, with many disadvantaged people relishing the opportunity to enjoy conversation and friendship as much as the food and cups of tea and coffee provided.
The store is open on Monday and Wednesday nights, with people often queuing to get in.
It's a welcome refuge for those who are struggling with loneliness, hunger, homelessness, and addiction.
"We've had feedback about how different it feels to other initiatives, that people who fight outside of Gratis walk in and are at peace with each other," Lydia says.
"We've seen confidence rise in our community because people are genuinely interested in hearing what others have to say. We chat about everything, from our favourite doughnuts to how our mental health is doing."
As store leader, Lydia supports volunteers, orders groceries and, most importantly, makes sure everyone walking through the doors feels seen and heard.
"My life has been changed by the connections I've made," she says.
Westfield Local Heroes are nominated and voted for by their communities, with the three top finalists per Westfield centre each awarded a $10,000 grant for their affiliated organisation. The Gratis Free Store will be able to offer hot food, run special events and provide volunteer training.
For further information on the Westfield Local Heroes program, click here