In a time of crisis, two local businesses are doing their bit to help those in hardship.
By Charlie Gill
The Flying Zucchinis sounds like a vegetarian circus troupe, but intriguing as that may be, the truth is just as interesting – and far more uplifting. In reality it’s a quality produce delivery service working in and around Fitzroy run by two women who decided, as Melbourne went back into lockdown in late May, to give back to the community that’s embraced them.
Caity Meyer, who runs this inspiring enterprise with her business partner Victoria Weatherall, describes it as a “covid baby” born of the unique conditions created by a global pandemic. The idea was to take fresh fruit and vegetable boxes to those in lockdown and while at first most clients were in the inner city, the business is now taking boxes from its Preston warehouse and delivering them as far as Hampton and Williamstown.
Caity says the company puts a premium on an intimate connection with customers – “making sure that they feel valued and heard. Creating something that feels a bit more intimate than working with your average business”.
“You get to know their families, their pet names. All the fun stuff.”
When Melbourne was once again forced to lock down at the start of winter, Caity and Vic created a pay-it-forward program allowing Australians throughout the country to pay for boxes for those in need, particularly women in crisis.
“It was within 24 hours that Vic and I had the conversation together and realised this was something that we could roll out really quickly and the community just picked up and absolutely ran with it.”
After posting an announcement on social media, they were flooded.
“We cried so many times that first day, it was unreal.”
Boxes delivered to shelters are exactly the same as those that go to regular paying customers, so the task was simply “about amplifying everything that we do”.
The larger scale meant an exceptional responsibility for the duo – “we really just worked ourselves to the bone”. In the first week of lockdown they delivered 200 boxes, almost double their usual number.
“In that first 24 hours we just went gangbusters. We were able to reach not only people who were buying boxes but also people who had been impacted by the lockdown and were out of work or struggling to feed a family.”
Caity and Vic take pride in being women in the agricultural and food delivery industry. “We’re two of the only women that lead a business of this sort in Australia. We’re pretty staunch feminists, so to stand in this position is pretty powerful.”
Caity believes “lockdown easing doesn’t necessarily mean that life is going back to normal for a lot of people that we’re delivering to”.
“To hear the stories that are coming out from people on our waitlist has been a bit heartbreaking at times. So to be able to take something off their shoulders for just one week of lockdown was a really special experience. It’s something that we’d love to continue in the future.”
Another woman in the food and philanthropy business is Hana Assafiri, from the famous Moroccan Soup Bar on St Georges Road. Hana has been providing free food to those in need for 24 years.
In the past, like that of the Zucchini’s, Hana’s support has been directed mainly at women, “yet we find ourselves in this new world, and ultimately this is about speaking to a need wherever it presents itself”.
Hana says the pandemic is most acutely felt by “people who yet again fall through the gaps”, and that government support has been “hugely inadequate”.
“And you know, sadly, they are sometimes young men who are on student visas, who are driving Ubers, who can’t meet their basic obligations because nothing is available to them.”
“Our community is our community. We inherit wherever we find ourselves. And I’m of the view that nobody should ever go hungry because they’re unable to afford a meal.”
“I don’t need any onus of proof. If you say you want a feed, you get a feed.”
Feeding anyone who shows up is a daunting logistical task, especially with up to a quarter of takeaway meals being free but Hana’s kitchen routinely cooks extra and can always put a meal together on the spot.
“We look inwards when we come up with these strategies…there is no roadmap. There is no instruction manual for how to do this.”
How lucky we are, then, to live in a community with people who take it upon themselves to help those in need. The Moroccan Soup Bar is a two- decades-old inner north institution that places emphasis on the communal dining experience, while The Flying Zucchini is a burgeoning business created to cater to those in isolation. They may have many differences, but that willingness to extend a helping hand is one thing they have in common.
The name, by the way, does have its origins in acrobatics. The Flying Zucchinis were the daredevil puppets that starred on The Muppet Show in the 1970s, named after the actual Zachinni Brothers whose human cannonball act stunned onlookers from the 1920s onwards. When the brothers were called up to fight in World War Two, the two Zachinni sisters took over.