UQ Business School students help the homeless and disadvantaged

21 May 2010
Eight UQ Business students are filling tummies and putting smiles on the faces of Brisbane's homeless and disadvantaged. As part of their Entrepreneurship and New Ventures course, postgraduate students Charles-Eric Sant-James of Fairfield, Clare Gallimore, Madeline Ko, and Marco Tremblay, all of St Lucia, Victor Petelo of Kingston, Safdar Ali of Mt Gravatt, Maren Mojen of Toowong and Matthew Goldman of Brisbane City are helping Brisbane-based organisation Vital Connection to run a vegetarian soup kitchen three nights per week. Team leader Clare Gallimore said it was a 'really rewarding experience'. "The people at Vital Connection are really easy-going, and there is a lot of interaction between us and the people we're helping," she said. Victor Petelo said the team was 'working on behalf of Vital Connection with two main goals-- to increase awareness of the issues involved and to raise funds through fundraising activities and sponsorship'. "There's a real community feel, and you get welcomed straightaway. You put on one of their shirts, and off you go," he said. "As a group, I hope we at least created more awareness of the issues of homelessness and disadvantage within Brisbane. We want to highlight what people can do to help, through organisations such as Vital Connection." "And personally, I hope to give back to the community, and helping Vital Connection not only through labour but by offering my business skills and knowledge which could be useful to the organisation." Vital Connections Acting Secretary Paul Thiganoff, a UQ Architecture alumni, was grateful to have the UQ Business School students helping the organisation. "Without them it's more of a struggle, and they help ease the load," he said. "The students got in touch with us, which was a great surprise. I think it's a great idea to include a component in their course for community service, and I hope it's good for them too - to see the other side of life." Mr Thiganoff said Vital Connection served vegetarian food that was 'virtually a full three-course meal'. "Normally we have quite a lot of variety - soup, pasta and a choice of five vegetables, with bread, cordial, water and some sweets which are usually cake and custard," he said. "A vegetarian meal is a lot better for them - because meat is a hassle to prepare and serve in a healthy way - as well as causing cholesterol and heart disease." For people like Tina Sherwood, Vital Connection is essential for giving her a 'good feed'. "I used to live on the streets, and I've been coming to Vital Connection for 10 years, and they keep the streeties alive and healthy," she said. "They're really good people, and it means so much to us because if they didn't give us food all the streeties would end up starving." And while the students' work has not gone unnoticed by the people they directly help, they are also raising awareness further afield with pamphlets and other fundraising activities, including a raffle drawn on May 26. "Awareness-wise we've been getting feedback from pamphlets and flyers, with people contacting us - asking about ways they can help," Ms Gallimore said. "We've also had a sausage sizzle, and have been selling raffle tickets at UQ, throughout the city and to family and friends." "We've also approached businesses, and three organisations offered their support by donating prizes for our raffle. They include the Treasury Casino, who donated one night's accommodation for two and valet parking at their Five Star Treasury Hotel. Also, Fridays Bar & Restaurant donated a cocktail party for 30 friends at their venue, with drinks and nibbles supplied for two hours, and Rebel Sports donated a $50 gift voucher," Mr Petelo said. "Big Gun Butchers also discounted sausages for our barbecue, and donations boxes have been distributed to our work locations." Both Ms Gallimore and Mr Petelo said they hoped to continue their work with Vital Connection beyond the end of semester. "I'd like to go back down to the soup kitchen, and I continue to look back at this as a long-term investment, and hope to get more of the Brisbane community involved," Ms Gallimore said. "Personally I am amazed by the generosity of the people that volunteer their services every week, particularly Ernesto, a team leader who has virtually not missed a day volunteering for the last year or so. He was originally homeless himself, queuing in the same line he finds himself serving. Truly inspirational," Mr Petelo said. "I am also surprised by the level of organisation - even though at times there are barely enough hands to cook the meals. And finally to witness the joy and thanks from the homeless and disadvantaged, was an eye-opener to the realities facing our society." And it seems it has definitely been a learning curve for the group. "Before this course, I thought I could never approach businesses to speak to head managers let alone ask for sponsorship. But now after speaking to managers from a range of organisations, I am confident I can hold my own and approach other businesses in the future," Mr Petelo said. Also, I have improved on my business negotiation skills, having to negotiate sausage discounts, marketing sponsorship and pitching proposals. And finally a key skill which I have found most vital is organisation." "It's been a challenging experience, but definitely a rewarding one," Ms Gallimore said.