Community spirit shines

Queenslanders rally round healthcare workers.

Sid Bhardwaj and his family spread love to healthcare workers through their food.

Mr Bhardwaj, his wife Divya and daughters Radhika, 13, and Krishnapriya, 9, (pictured below) are members of the Facebook group Adopt a Healthcare Worker, which is supporting medical professionals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Contributing to the group was an easy decision for the Bhardwaj family.

“I joined this group because we understand there is such a requirement to support these people,” Mr Bhardwaj, a Toowoomba service station operator, said.

“Whoever is in the front line is putting themselves at risk.

“I have doctors, aged-care workers and nurses as friends and we are aware of what they are going through.

“With the stress that they are dealing with on a daily basis, we wanted to provide them with support.

“We are helping in any way we can to make them feel valued in the community.”

The Bhardwaj family has helped healthcare workers in many ways, from supermarket trips to lawn mowing, but their specialty is cooking.

Mr Bhardwaj said his two daughters were enthusiastic participants and had been busy in the kitchen, preparing wholesome meals for delivery to grateful healthcare workers.

“We come from India, which is famous for its hospitality, and we like to spread our love through food,” he said.

“All these people are time-poor and don’t have time to cook.

“But how long can you survive on takeaway food? Home-cooked meals are different.”

It is not the first time the family has responded with food in a time of crisis.

Adopt a healthcare worker

During the summer bushfires, Mr Bhardwaj and his family relocated to New South Wales where they travelled around the state from a Sydney base delivering an estimated 12,000 home-cooked meals to firefighters and others in need.

“Tough times bring out the best and worst in people and we want to inspire other people to bring out the best,” Mr Bhardwaj said.

“One thing for sure is, we want everyone to understand we are in this together. 

“People have been blown away because they have felt so much love.”

By the end of May, Queensland’s Adopt a Healthcare Worker Facebook group had more than 21,000 members after being set up by Chris Fowler (pictured below).

The Gold Coast computer games programmer was invited to start the Queensland group by Perth’s Chris Nicholas, who began the concept in Western Australia.

“I really wanted to help and there was nothing I could do,” Mr Fowler said.

“This was a page that resonated with me, so I joined and then decided to start it here.

“It’s one of those things that as soon as you say it, you know it is worthwhile.”

It is now being used as a rallying point to support healthcare workers in communities around the country, including all of Queensland.

“From small towns in Cape York all the way down (to south-east Queensland) and out west, it’s everywhere,” Mr Fowler said.

“Some of the best support is in the rural areas where they were struggling to get access to things.”

Initially, offers of physical help flooded in. Group members were eager to run errands for healthcare workers, walk their dogs, wash their cars – anything that helped make their lives easier.

Under the guidance of Logan-based Sewing For Charity Australia, many also made scrubs caps for doctors and nurses.

“It all goes through Sewing For Charity Australia and gets checked to ensure guidelines are met,” Mr Fowler said.

“They deserve a lot of raps for the work they are doing.”

He said while the physical help was valuable and greatly appreciated, it was just as important to give emotional support.
Mr Fowler maintains regular contact with two healthcare workers, mainly through Facebook.

“From my own personal point of view, the large acts of kindness are not required as much as the small check-ins to let them know you are thinking of them,” 
he said.

“Some days they have good days and some days they have had the worst day.”

The Facebook page is monitored by a team of 10, including registered nurses and mental health workers, who are ready to step in if they feel someone needs professional support.

“Just knowing that so many people care and want to help is a really good way to galvanise public support for what is technically our last line of defence,” 
Mr Fowler said.

While activity on the page had calmed down as the “curve flattened”, he said it was important to continue to show healthcare workers support.

“The response has been phenomenal but there is always more work to do and more people who need help,” he said.

“This is when it gets hardest because it almost becomes a war of attrition, when you have to help people be motivated to go to work because we need them.”

Rochedale South’s Parfrey Place Medical Centre Practice Manager Kim Gardner said doctors were stretched to the limit by the impacts of COVID-19 and the community support was greatly appreciated.

“The amount of people who have offered to help out in the local area is really heart-warming,” Ms Gardner said.

“It really does show a good side of humanity.”

Photos: Jerad Williams, Bhardwaj family & Getty Images