Meet Kerry & Michael

Transforming Lives: One meal at a time

Kerry and Michael see first-hand how the Vinnies mobile pantries brings food and warmth to Victorians in need.

“We have noticed more recently that a few younger people have been attending who may be students. One dad pedals in on a bicycle with a box on the pack rack and collects for his family. There are at least three who collect food for a friend who is unable to attend themselves.”

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- Kerry

Kerry and Michael O’Leary, two of our remarkable volunteers, are shining beacons of hope for Victorians in need. Since March 2022, they have been part of the Vinnies inner city mobile pantry team. Every Monday, they see first-hand how the Vinnies mobile pantries bring much-needed food and also warmth and empowerment to the growing number of Victorians in need.

Vannie: Kerry O'Leary

Kerry and Michael’s mission: No one goes hungry

Kerry, Michael and their team of fellow Vinnies volunteers are on a mission to ensure no one goes hungry. Each Monday afternoon, the dynamic duo gears up for a journey filled with compassion and purpose on board our much-loved Vinnies mobile pantries – lifelines for people who struggle to afford necessities, such as basic staples.

The hustle begins in the Vinnies Inner City Soup Van Hub in Kensington. Here, the couple helps load two Vinnies vans with essential items – tinned food, long-life milk, cereals, noodles, rice, fresh produce, frozen meals, bread the occasional sweet treat – before heading to North Melbourne.

Where compassion takes the wheel

Once they arrive at the Clayton Reserve dog park, the vans transform into a haven of hope. The mobile pantry quickly comes to life with trestle tables carefully laid out with boxes and crates of food forming a welcoming square. A gazebo stands ready for rain. Kerry describes the scene: "As the people we support weave around the tables, we fill their bags with the supplies they choose and need. Michael records the number of people who attend. This helps with forecasting what is needed in the week to come."

And what a need there is. With, on average, 70+ people eagerly awaiting their turn when the vans pull up, Kerry and Michael’s team work quickly and efficiently to ensure that no one is left behind without food in the 60 minutes the mobile pantry is open.

A long queue long before the mobile pantry arrives

“The pantry van is clearly highly valued. When we arrive shortly before 2.00 pm, there is always a queue of people,” Kerry says. “We know that people arrive before 1.00 pm to get their place reserved. If it’s raining, we still have people attending. Most wait across the road undercover, and we arrive to a row of shopping jeeps, holding their place in the queue.” It’s a testimony of the mobile pantry's value to the community.

Everyone has their own story

The mobile pantry serves diverse individuals, each with their own story. “There are single people, young mums, dads with families, middle-aged and older folks. Many are collecting for a family, and probably more than half will be female. We have two who arrive on mobility scooters,” says Kerry.

“We have noticed more recently that a few younger people have been attending who may be students. One dad pedals in on a bicycle with a box on the pack rack and collects for his family. There are at least three who collect food for a friend who is unable to attend themselves.”

The feeling of being seen, connected and cared for

But it’s not only the food that the mobile pantry delivers. “One gentleman sings, so there’s an incidental social aspect to it also,” Kerry says with a smile. Michael usually gets drawn into conversations about his footy team with one of the people attending.

“He is there most weeks on a mobility scooter, always with a smile and keen to talk to us all,” says Michael cheerfully. “He barracks for Essendon, but is always keen to discuss Richmond’s fortunes. He knows us all by name, looks out for Kerry and others and kindly reminds us to keep our backs straight as we carry in the boxes and crates. He always calls out to each of us when he’s finished collecting his food to say goodbye personally. He is a champion.”

Vannies: Michael O'Leary

Abundance of gratitude and relief

“We find that nearly everyone comes with a smile, and they are very grateful when we remind them that we will be distributing food even over most holidays. No doubt, there’s a relief to know they will receive food weekly. Certainly, there’s a sense of appreciation for the volunteers – they know we care. We get a heap of thank you,” says the husband and wife team.

From sandwiches to empowered choices

Kerry and Michael's journey as Vinnies volunteers began when they volunteered on Good Fridays, making sandwiches after another volunteer in their parish asked them. As COVID emerged, they felt a stronger call to serve the community. Soon, they became weekly volunteers, filling and delivering food and fresh produce hampers. This experience birthed the idea of the mobile pantry van, giving people in need the power to make their own dietary choices and use the service more efficiently.

Seeing first-hand Vinnies work make a difference

For the O’Learys, volunteering is more than just a selfless act. “We know from meeting the people we serve face to face each week that we are doing something important and we are making a difference for them. That in itself is invigorating,” says the couple.

There’s more: “Michael and I also personally enjoy doing this work together as a couple and sharing our story with each other on our way home each week. We also get to work directly in a team of compassionate volunteers – people that clearly are of a generous and kind spirit.”

It’s time and a shared passion for helping others that they cherish together.

Your giving will help because, together, we can change lives

While Kerry and Michael are the ones lending a hand up to people in need, they humbly acknowledge the many other supporters – such as other volunteers, suppliers, and the Melbourne City Council – who stand alongside and who make their work possible.

On top of their acknowledgement list is – of course – everyone who supports the Vinnies soup vans and mobile pantries.

Our 700+ soup van and mobile pantry volunteers helped Vinnies provide 776,300 meals during the previous year.

You can support our programs and services DONATE HERE