Tonya Harris, formerly from Access Skills Training (a division of WISE Employment) is a great long-time friend and partner of Bendigo Foodshare. Sharing the same values, passion and drive to build food security within the community as us, Tonya has valued her students being actively involved in our work for many years.  

At the beginning of COVID Bendigo Foodshare’s Cafes for COVID program launched in response to the escalation for food relief and struggling hospitality industry. Tonya, Amanda Southcombe and their team advocated for their students to get involved from the get-go, devising a 10-week “Cooking for the Community” program that produced 2,400 much needed meals for food relief.  

Tonya reflects, “During lockdown, many of our students who received NDIS funding lost access to vital support services. They found themselves extremely isolated, vulnerable and without the basics such as food. The cooking program gave the students a sense of purpose, value, and connection to their community during a very difficult time. They also developed important hands-on food, kitchen and work skills.”  

Since then, Tonya has facilitated her students’ participation in Bendigo Foodshare’s Cooking for Change and Cafe for a Day initiatives – providing her students with hands-on practical learning experiences, while helping community through the making of over 4,000 meals for Bendigo Foodshare’s food relief program.  

Recognising that many of her students are at risk of food insecurity, Tonya has had to be creative and resourceful in order to continue to offer these important experiences for her students. This has included sourcing her own funding and using her talents for stretching the budget to maximise the benefits for her students and number of meals made for Bendigo Foodshare.  

Her most recent project was made possible through a small community grant from the City of Greater Bendigo. With these funds, Tonya and her team incorporated another round of “Catering for the Community” cooking project that complemented the students’ accredited Work Education and Introduction to Hospitality programs. By embedding the program within their learning, it provided students important hands-on kitchen experience and how to make easy and healthy meals, along with another incredible 500-plus meals for Bendigo Foodshare’s food relief program.  

Tonya says, “By continuing to look for ways to support Bendigo FoodShare’s local food relief efforts through involving our students is a benefit to all involved. These projects have engaged learners, with some then going on to gain further work experience in the hospitality sector. Plus, I must thank the City of Greater Bendigo for being supportive of the grant applications over the last 5 years.” 

Tonya – we thank you for the energy and passion you invest into the important work you do – building life and work skills in the kitchen, and continuously finding creative ways to empower your students with work that makes a positive difference. It’s an outstanding contribution to the community.