In a light and airy former school hall in Holt, people are busy building gift bundles.
No, they’re not getting a jump on Christmas deliveries. Instead, they’re Roundabout Canberra volunteers packing items for Canberra families that most of us take for granted.
Bibs, nappies, washcloths, soft toys and size 0000 clothing are things new parents are likely to buy or receive in bulk when they’re expecting. But for Canberra families doing it tough, these items may prove too costly, forcing them to go without even the essentials.
It’s this harsh reality that Roundabout Canberra CEO and Founder Hannah Andrevski (pictured) hopes to prevent for as many families as possible. Founded in 2018 as a way for families to donate second-hand baby, parenting and children’s goods, Roundabout Canberra acts as a sorting hub (a roundabout, if you will) that funnels quality used and new donated items to more than 100 Canberra region services and charities that get the goods where they need to go.
In 2018, Roundabout Canberra helped 350 kids—in 2021 they helped 2039 and in 2022 they helped 3121. In 2023, they will help over 4000 children.
Hannah highlights that Roundabout Canberra doesn’t deal directly with Canberrans receiving these goods, leaving that in the hand of the services. Large trolleys are stacked with orders that services have placed for their clients, ready to be picked up by organisations like Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT, Toora Women Inc and Vinnies.
“Sometimes it’s for a box of clothes, sometimes it’s everything a family will need for a newborn,” says Hannah. “As well as donated items we always try to put a few new items in there too. We want it to be a really nice experience for people to open their box and feel like someone’s put love and care into it. We want it to feel like a gift.”
“We don’t have any contact with the families themselves and for us that’s about protecting their dignity—it can be embarrassing for people to ask for help and if they’re already working with a service we think it’s important they can continue that relationship.”
In Roundabout’s headquarters, part of the Holt Community Hub, industrial shelving is used to house literal tonnes of donated, quality-checked goods, from shelves of children’s books to tubs of clothing sorted by age group, and brand-new pallets of nappies courtesy of corporate sponsors.
The former school canteen is used to safety check prams and cots while another room houses rows of car seats and a colourful children’s play area sits ready for any volunteers who would like to bring their bubs in. All the while, a crew of volunteers move about tables, sorting, checking and packing. There’s a cheerful buzz in the air as they quietly chat.
With one of the most flexible volunteer programs in Canberra and no minimum time commitment or set roster, Hannah says Roundabout prides itself on creating realistic volunteering opportunities.
“We now have around 250 volunteers on our books, some who come every single week, some who come in during school holidays or just when they have some spare time. We don’t ask for a regular commitment, which I think some people really appreciate.”
Even during lockdowns, Roundabout’s volunteers continued to drive contactless deliveries and volunteer remotely to make sure the organisation was able to continue serving the community.
I’m introduced to Julie, a passionate sewer who supports Roundabout’s gifted team of makers who create the many cloth bags the organisation uses in place of plastic—part of a conscious strategy to reduce, reuse and recycle. Old bedding is even upcycled into pouches for baby wombats and wallabies through animal rescue organisations.
Made of colourful repurposed and donated fabrics, the sewing volunteers’ simple bags are finished with a handle and snaps and are used as book bags in school packs for primary aged children, to wrap toiletry packs for young teens or to bundle toys.
On one shelf, modest black backpacks sit ready and waiting to be delivered to maternity wards at Canberra’s hospitals for new mums in critical need.
“They contain the really essential items people might need for a newborn and the hospitals have had really positive feedback…it just means they have something to give them until [the new parents] can put in a proper order with a service.”
Hannah says that for many people living in challenging circumstances, it can be difficult to know just how many things they might need for new babies.
“Money is a huge factor but there is a lot of information out there and it takes time to consume that—we’re making it easy for the services to make sure their clients are supported.”
Roundabout has recently received grant sponsorship funding from Ginninderry, which has gone towards creating an even better hub for their dedicated volunteers.
“It’s all about fostering community connection and creating a hub for our volunteers, which our space has really become,” says Hannah.
“It’s a social space where members of the Canberra community can come and spend their time doing something rewarding, and give back to the community.”
“Connection is a huge part of what we do – it’s not something that we talk about a lot, or that people outside of our organisation know much about, but this grant is about supporting this community connection.”
As well as checking all donated items meet safety standards, Roundabout also includes safe sleeping pamphlets from Red Nose in new baby packs and a voucher to get a car seat professionally fitted.
“We’re trying to remove the financial burden but also that mental load. We’re hearing a lot of stories about the cost of living at the moment and a lot of services tell us that if we can give [clients] these things for free, they can put what money they have towards rent or petrol.”
While Roundabout is always accepting donations, as Hannah puts it, they’re only ever looking for quality donated items that “you’d give to your best friend”, with an up-to-date list of most-needed donations on Roundabout Canberra’s Facebook page, Instagram page or website.
Right now, Hannah says clothing for older children (size 8-16) is desperately needed, as well as back-to-school items such as backpacks, lunchboxes, drink bottles and stationery.
Nappies, wipes, and toiletries for adults are also always welcome donations.
To donate items to Roundabout Canberra, head here.