When Debra Knight was named Sunshine Coast Citizen of the Year at the Australia Day Awards ceremony, a spotlight was shone on the community organisation she has devoted more than a decade of her life to – Gateway Care.
Ms Knight has led a team of volunteers who have worked tirelessly to keep the low-cost grocery store not only operational for the past 13 years, but has transformed it into a place for people to gather to socialise, connect and stave off loneliness by talking with others who are ready and willing to listen.
Gateway Care has more than 9000 families on its database, with close to 4000 families having accessed its services in the past 12 months.
Deputy Mayor Tim Dwyer, who presented the awards during the ceremony, says Ms Knight has an inspiring passion and dedication for helping those in need.
Ms Knight says she is still surprised by her award win, but last week she was already back to business, working out ways in which she can bring the organisation’s wish list to life.
Gateway Care has been set up in such an effective way that it is largely self-sustainable, with a number of businesses on board to supply products to Gateway at little or no cost. The addition of a small margin allows the charity to pay their enormous overheads and save a little to improve facilities and services.
“We’ve got a thriving cafe area and we’re looking to put a shade sail up there once we can find some kind person to donate one, and someone who will put it up for us,” she says.
“Then we will need some lovely outdoor furniture and we are looking to build a bigger freezer so we will no longer have to pay $500 a month to rent the two container freezers we currently use. And we do need another forklift, our forklift broke and we’ve had to borrow one…”
Gateway Care director Tom Lew says the organisation provides a wide range of services, including employing people who are on welfare to skill them up as baristas or cash register operators so they can gain sustainable employment into the future.
“We don’t just teach them the job skills, we help them with presentation, communication skills and how to work with people in the wider community,” he says.
Mr Lew says while at times the overheads can “be crippling”, they are able to continue functioning and growing due to the support from the wider community.
“We want people to know that they can benefit from our low-cost groceries if they have a Centrelink card or are receiving welfare benefits, but sometimes they feel there is a stigma attached to accessing services like ours,” he says.
“We encourage anybody that is eligible to come down to this community outlet and know that we rely on them as much as they rely on us. Having shoppers at Gateway helps us as the more product we can turn over, the more viable it is for us to remain open.”
Ms Knight says she’d love to see more people buying coffees and meals from their cafe, which is open to the general public.
If you would like to know more about Gateway Care or find out how you can make a tax deductible donation or donate services or equipment to the charity, contact Debbie on 0418 717 708.