Ever since we started Seljak Brand we’ve donated one blanket for every ten sold to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray, Victoria.
We visited the ASRC again a couple weeks ago to hand deliver our 160th blanket and check out their incredible work enabling social enterprises, running legal services and so much more.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne
Winter can be a hard time at the ASRC as food stocks run low and warm things are needed, so the Centre was a hive of activity.
In our three visits over the last three years, what strikes us is the ever evolving nature of the processes and programs at the ASRC, which are often reactionary to changes in government policy and funding, as well as feedback from the members themselves.
Blankets ready for distribution at the ASRC
The General Access Program (or GAP) is the program through which Seljak Brand blankets are distributed. GAP is the first port of call for people requiring support in relation to homelessness, family violence, social isolation and destitution. This is where members talk though their needs, including food and warmth, with a case worker. In 2017-18 GAP supported 2,279 people seeking asylum.
Other programs at the ASRC include healthcare, English for the workplace, youth empowerment, legal services and foodbank.
Most needed items for Foodbank in March 2019
One program called The Women’s Empowerment Program (WEP), a safe space for women at the ASRC, is driven by women members through a committee and activities are designed themselves. This self-determination culture, so prevalent at the ASRC, enables people seeking asylum more autonomy.
WEP assists women to realise their career potential, whether it be securing employment, education, or starting their own business. Training programs focus on practical skills like budgeting and computer skills as well as building confidence, such as assertiveness training. Of the participants who completed hospitality training and computer training in 2017-18, thirteen found paid employment.
There are also two social enterprises that are run by and employ people seeking asylum: ASRC Catering and ASRC Cleaning. These enterprises provide regular income and vital Australian work experience to members.
Founder and CEO, Kon Karapanagiotidis, set up ASRC as a hole-in-the-wall food bank for refugees with his students while teaching at Victoria University. The Centre is now across the road from its original location, taking up almost half a block.
The case workers, doctors, nurses, lawyers and receptionists at the ASRC are mostly volunteers. There are long serving volunteers who used to be ASRC members themselves, volunteering to ‘pay it back’ and provide support for new members. Many consider the ASRC a family.
If you want to donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, head here. Your funds will be allocated to the area of greatest need.
Artwork by members of the ASRC
Update April 2023:
From inception until mid-2020, we donated a blanket to the ASRC in Melbourne for every 10 blankets sold. Over the course of the pandemic it became clear that monetary donations could more effectively cover the very immediate needs of refugees and people seeking asylum. From July 2020, for every blanket sold we donated $5 to the ASRC, and $2 from April 2023, to cover the cost of the highest-need material aid, like food and toiletries