When the food preparation part is finished an entirely new sequence of tasks gets underway
From a commercial kitchen located within the George Burnett Leisure Centre in Karawara Josh Serafini surveys the room. His food preparation has finished and now the cooking process begins with a whole new sequence of tasks to get underway.
Pots of boiling water stand obligingly on a stove surrounded by large stainless steel mixing bowls full of chopped up carrots, broccoli and pumpkin. Within an oven two pork roasts cook steadily, a light crackling starting to form on top. On a bench 100 plastic food containers are laid out in rows with the eventual contents destined to be delivered around the City of South Perth to those who need it most. Josh’s eyes dart around the room calculating various cooking times in his head.
Homeless when he was sixteen
It is an interesting position for him to be in and what drives him for he was once the recipient of a free meal. “I became homeless when I was sixteen,” remembers Josh.
“A food truck used to come to Beaufort Park and drop-off meals. They were not the best but over twenty years or so the meals were better. This has created my vision to be able to produce something high quality.”
“A food truck used to come to Beaufort Park and drop-off meals. They were not the best.”
Josh didn’t fall into food overnight. His Italian background is full of memories of his nonna cooking Italian cuisine for his family. This sparked an interest in food which led him to a five-year job with Mustard Catering where he developed a variety of skills.
“I worked both front of house and back of house and I oversaw the room setup at several locations including the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, HBF Stadium and Perth Zoo. You learn everything from waiting to cooking to wine appreciation.”
Before COVID-19 started to make its mark on society earlier this year Josh was running a Community Dinners program from the Leisure Centre. He started the initiative with HOME Karawara a collective impact group comprised of the City of South Perth, Waterford Plaza, Southcare, Moorditj Keila, Lifestreams Christian Church, Kensington Police Station, Gowrie Early Learning, Department of Housing, and residents. Funding for the food was provided by the Royal Perth Golf Club Charity Committee.
Diners were served on the first Wednesday of the month to community members, the homeless and the socially isolated from the centre’s seminar room. But when COVID-19 arrived the Community Dinners project was repurposed to alleviate the serious impact the virus was having on vulnerable people within the community who are socially isolated and have limited access to income and food. Josh increased his output and the kitchen sprang into life moving from a once-a-month operation to a weekly event.
“In the first few weeks I did all the cooking by myself from the George Burnett Centre,” he said. “I produced all those 100 meals on my own. Thankfully for me the Rotary Club of Mill Point found out about what I was doing, and they send me their volunteers who do a brilliant job. I am also supported by local volunteers and people who overcame their mental health challenges to assist within the kitchen.”
The food choices change regularly, and Josh has control over the menu. A vegetarian option is always available along with a mixture of beef, pork, chicken and pasta dishes just like his nonna used to make. A healthy combination of food is non-negotiable, and each meal is served with a generous amount of vegetables. Meals are distributed to Aboriginal Community groups throughout the City of South Perth by Waterford Plaza and the Rotary Club of Mill Point.
Wilf Sonntag is the Chairman of the Royal Perth Golf Course Charity Committee (RPGC), they run a charity corporate golf day every year to assist a variety of non-profit organisations throughout the City of South Perth.
“One of these projects is to finance the food ingredients that Josh uses for his cooking,” he said. “Josh purchases the food (with our funds) then cooks the meals.”
In addition to the meal delivery service care hampers are being delivered to rough sleepers. “These hampers are Josh’s idea and the RPGC are financing the items that go into these bags,” Wilf said. The RPGC has assisted Josh with the purchasing of toiletries and sanitary products and is using its network to get discounts on items supplied.
“Josh is doing a fantastic job in helping the homeless and he does it all as a volunteer.”
At Shelter WA Josh has been involved with the Hear of my Experience (HOME) project as a Lived Experience Advocate. The project empowers people with a lived experience of homelessness or housing precariousness to have a greater voice in the sector through the establishment of a co-designed speaker’s bureau. Chief Executive Officer at Shelter WA Michelle Mackenzie met Josh through the project and has been following his work ever since.
“It was fantastic to visit the kitchen at the George Burnett Leisure Centre to learn more about this initiative,” Michelle said. “Josh runs a first class operation and we are proud to work with him in his role as a lived experience advocate.”
What will happen Post-COVID-19?
For the foreseeable future the meal service will continue indefinitely as unemployment remains high and the uncertainly around life thanks to Coronavirus continues. Moving forward Josh hopes to secure a partnership with Coles where he is currently purchasing his food from the funds provided.