Times have never been tougher, help MOCSIS make a difference

front street view of MOCSIS oakleigh

A small weatherboard house nestled in a quiet suburban street, not far from the hustle and bustle of Oakleigh’s busiest shopping and dining precinct, could pass as any sedate family home in the south-east of Melbourne.

But belying its simple unremarkable exterior, that small weatherboard housefront in Downing St hides a constant hive of activity - and it’s activity that throws an emergency lifeline to more than 10,000 people in need.

The Monash-Oakleigh Community Support and Information Service started life as a Citizens Advice Bureau back in 1974, but community needs have changed since then and so has the role MOCSIS plays. MOCSIS continues to serve the local community but now mainly with emergency relief, generally food vouchers and other assistance, for those living in the Oakleigh area.

And with the crushing pressure of the rising cost of living, soaring gas and electricity prices and the lack of affordable rental accommodation, staff say MOCSIS is an organisation working harder than it has in living memory.

After negotiating a front porch crowded with plastic bags of bread rolls and a variety of loaves, and a small folding card table stacked with information brochures, you edge through the front door and along a hallway lined with plastic crates containing carrots, potatoes, oranges and apples.

Every available space is occupied, every nook and cranny filled with donated food and goods.

Packets of Chinese noodles, tinned tomatoes and bottled pasta sauce are stacked high atop wardrobes or filled to overflowing in large roll out drawers that occupy a space that was once a brick recess for a kitchen stove. Every square centimetre of bench space is the temporary home of crockery, cutlery and kitchen utensils while another cupboard is crammed with small emergency plastic washing kits comprising soap, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste and flannel.

One of the front rooms, probably the master bedroom when the house was in its heyday, has been converted to a makeshift Op Shop with racks of clothes and shelves loaded with everyday household items. A client sifts enthusiastically through the goods and shares a joke with the staff.

Out the back, half a dozen raised garden beds are just a few weeks short of delivering another valuable supply of vegetables.

When I arrive, four volunteers staff the centre – none are sitting, there doesn’t seem to be time for such a luxury. Two front office staff scurry up and down the hall armed with paperwork on some trips and groceries on others; Karen sweeps the floor of what was once the kitchen, having just finished loading 45 dozen eggs into a fridge.

“We don’t often get eggs,” she said. “These are from an Asian grocer in Glen Waverley, they are so generous. They gave us 90 dozen once.”

Even MOCSIS president Kathy Hosie is hunched over the computer, administration conducted standing and on the run rather than sitting.

It must be what an ants' nest is like in those last chaotic weeks of preparation before winter comes.

“Oh, this is quiet,” Kathy laughs. “On Monday we had 23 interviews (with clients) and it’s the busiest day, we get deliveries from OzHarvest and Bakers Delight. Then we had 30 additional people come in off the street for bread and vegetables.

“Food is our biggest demand. We’ve had to cut back on special financial assistance, like paying bills. Our money is so limited. So, it is much better spent on food, that can reach the biggest number of people. We’re seeing new clients every week.”

As part of her report writing responsibilities, and preparing pitches for potential funding, Kathy has crunched some telling numbers, comparing the financial year 2019/20, just before the COVID pandemic, to 2022/23.

The numbers make sobering reading.

Number of interviews is up 30%; the number of registered clients is up 22%; the service put together 2500 food parcels, an increase of 25%; and handed out 2268 food vouchers, an increase of 30%.

In the 2022-23 financial year, MOCSIS provided 783 clients (3212, once their partners and children are taken into account) with food vouchers and food parcels, while it fielded 8165 general enquiries about food and other services.

Some 20 crates of Bakers Delight bread and 200kg of OzHarvest fruit and vegetables are provided every week. This equates to more than 6500 bags of food given out over the year, approximately 19,000kg – that’s almost 10 large work utes or a fully-loaded Greyhound bus.

There’s no doubt COVID and the impact of Melbourne’s lockdowns were tough. But, Kathy said, during those two years, there was Jobkeeper, Jobseeker and a range of emergency COVID funding and support available.

Those supports have since ended.

“This is much worse,” she said of the current times. “Much, much worse. Now is the worst we’ve ever seen things. We are so lucky we have the support of Bakers Delight and OzHarvest. This is helping put food on the table.”

But there’s human stories beyond the alarming statistics.

In recent weeks Kathy had helped a young girl sleeping rough in a petrol station – she hadn’t eaten in more than 24 hours and wolfed down half a dozen bread rolls in a matter of minutes. Soon after, there was a family whose house had burnt down, and they were now out on the street with nowhere to go.

“Some individuals we deal with have mental health issues and they can be difficult,” Kathy said. “But most are very grateful, very appreciative of what we are doing.”

While food and clothing are invaluable sources of support, and donations are gratefully received, Kathy said the service’s biggest need is finding the volunteer staff to keep MOCSIS up and running.

What we really need is volunteers who work with clients, and they have to be prepared to do the training (approximately seven weeks),” she said.

Training involves a wide range of skills, including defusing potentially volatile situations, managing difficult clients and knowing where to refer people for the various support services that are available.

“We have our own networks and get a lot of support,” Kathy said. “But it’s at the pointy end (volunteers, face-to-face with clients) where we’re struggling. Volunteers, it doesn’t matter what organisation, they’re all doing it tough since COVID. They can’t get the volunteers.”

Kathy said two staff were needed to keep the office open at any given time. One day last year a late absence because of illness meant the service had to close the office for the day.

“That had never happened before COVID,” she said. “But now, if you have a cold, you don’t come in to work. We’re under enormous pressure. There’s not much downtime being a volunteer. We don’t have enough volunteers, in September we had seven off on holidays or having operations.”

If you can lend a hand, volunteering your time could be the greatest donation possible.



Monash-Oakleigh Community Support and Information Service

Address: 25 Downing St, Oakleigh 3166

Email: admin@mocsis.org.au

Website: https://mocsis.org.au

Facebook: Find us at Monash Oakleigh Community Support