COMMUNITY, CULTURE + COLOUR : OZHARVEST
There’s no doubt that, whether we’re showing kindness or receiving it, acts of goodwill benefit us in multiple ways. Findings in the 2021 World Happiness Report, released on March 20th, have reinforced that while emotional wellbeing in the past 12 months has been impacted across the globe, one thing has proved to have a positive effect on many throughout the pandemic: supporting each other – and leaning on others when we need to – pays huge feelgood dividends.
As Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, told the Washington Post, “Social support is by far one of the best ways to help people cope with any kind of adversity or stress or tragedy.” The report also found that the global ‘happiness effects’ of generosity increased last year, “and that making a donation correlated with higher life satisfaction and positive affect. That finding tracks with a number of studies that testify to the wellbeing boosts of acts of kindness and volunteering.”
The power of kindness: OzHarvest
Founded by Ronni Kahn AO in 2004, OzHarvest is Australia’s leading food rescue organisation. What began with one van in Sydney delivering food to local charities, OzHarvest has become a leading food rescue organisation with a mission to ‘Nourish our Country’. OzHarvest helps communities across the country every day, collecting good-quality surplus food from supermarkets, cafes, delis, restaurants, hotels and other food businesses, and distributing it to those who need it.
Finding Your Purpose, with Ronni Kahn
Ronni Kahn is a passionate advocate and activist renowned for disrupting the food waste landscape in Australia, on a mission to fight food waste and feed hungry people. Ronni is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and was named Australian Local Hero of the Year. Her journey is the subject of a feature film, Food Fighter, and her memoir A Repurposed Life has recently been published.
Below, an extract from A Repurposed Life, by Ronni Kahn with Jessica Chapnik Kahn, expands on the importance of being true to yourself and the power of finding your purpose.
When I look back at my formative years in South Africa, even at the hopeful age of seventeen, everything had felt utterly hopeless. It had fleetingly occurred to me to stay and fight the system, but at the time I truly believed things would never change. There were people, like Selma and so many others, however, who did stay, not from apathy or lack of opportunity, but because they believed in showing their support by seeing this through and believing in evolution and revolution. They believed in doing what they could to support South Africa to become what it could and should be. I never thought to give myself that opportunity, even as I became older. Life just continued on, as life does, from one thing to the next. I was born and educated in South Africa, then I left. That was it. And even though I was young, and even though it was barely my choice, I harbour guilt for that. For not standing by my black and brown brothers and sisters who deserved more courage from the privileged few. Fundamentally, I had not known that I could make a difference. But here I was, 33 years later, feeling like maybe I could have. And maybe I could now find a way to make a difference. I could finally find a way to take action, in the country where I lived now. Maybe life was presenting me another chance at courage.
Food is universal. Food equalises us all. Food is about dignity. It is about sharing and caring and love. Food doesn’t discriminate. It is for every living being, no matter who you are or the colour of your skin. It is a core, fundamental connector: we all need it. In that sense, my new food rescue idea had everything to do with South Africa. For me it was a way to right a wrong. There is no doubt that I had been carrying a sense of debt, a sense of working towards a redemption from the gross inactivity of my past. And I don’t mean to say that there is a link between the atrocities that occurred in South Africa and what we do now in OzHarvest. Nothing can redeem any part of what happened there. And nothing can change the fact that I was not an activist at a time when it really counted. Though I still don’t call myself an activist, I knew that day that I wouldn’t be able to make a difference on a bigger scale without becoming one.
What an honour it is to be part of something that considers the voiceless, that works to help the dispossessed in our community, that gives a basic sense of dignity and deservedness to many different people. And it’s all by virtue of making sure that beautiful quality food reaches every demographic of need. The people who surrounded me growing up – the Florries of my youth – were not given the opportunity to be treated with dignity, were not recognised for their contribution; they were not seen, nor were they heard. Nothing can undo that or what they went through or how we treated them. And although I did not set up OzHarvest to do this in a deliberate sense – it grew from a solution to a problem I had in front of me – it has done this. I dedicate everything good that has come from my work at OzHarvest to Florrie and to all the nameless faces from which I averted my gaze. It is all I can do now.
And it was here, in this green-tiled room in Soweto, that it all solidified. I was going to do this food-waste thing, and do it properly. That night, my adrenalin was pumping. I was plotting and planning and thinking and dreaming. I was so excited. I barely slept for days. I flew back to Australia convinced about starting a food-rescue charity, though it still didn’t have a name.
I told absolutely everyone: ‘I’m going to start a food-rescue organisation.’ I told my family and all the caterers I worked with, and my clients and people in shops and random people on the street. Anyone. I’m doing this. That’s it. There was deep intentionality now. Having had the experience of building up my florist shops, of building up RKED, of network marketing: all those experiences taught me that I could make things happen. I had courage. I had strength. I never thought to question whether or not I could start OzHarvest because there was nothing about it, as far as I could see, that might fail. I knew it would be useful, I knew it would be helpful and I knew it would get off the ground and have some kind of importance, because it was important to me. What I have found is that when you follow your instincts you are able to act in a way that you wouldn’t normally act. You find capabilities you didn’t know were there. You may be shy and suddenly you can speak in public. You may never have seen yourself as a negotiator, and now you are wheeling and dealing. And so, from one day to the next, I was a woman possessed, even without understanding exactly what it was I was getting myself into.
My trip to Soweto had led to an epiphany. I didn’t need more stuff, more possessions, more validation, more money. My cup was full. What I desperately wanted was to really feel what it meant to do good. I went from living a totally self-indulgent life with Anton to wanting to live in a way that wasn’t just about me and my pleasure. I wanted to serve something bigger than myself. The word ‘harvest’ started to form in my mind; this was exactly what I had been doing delivering those leftover meals. I was harvesting. I liked it. That’s all I had in terms of a vision. I had absolutely no other sense of what needed to happen. But it was something.
This terrifying town from my childhood became my clarion call. In one fated, romantic instant, Soweto undressed herself for me and showed me her humanity – her flesh as my flesh and her blood as my blood. The electricity of Soweto found its way into my body; it lit a thrilling switch and has never stopped lighting my way.
To learn more about OzHarvest, to volunteer, or donate (every $1 donated allows OzHarvest to deliver two meals to people in need), click here.
To order a copy of A Repurposed Life, click here.
"What I have found is that when you follow your instincts you are able to act in a way that you wouldn’t normally act. You find capabilities you didn’t know were there. You may be shy and suddenly you can speak in public. You may never have seen yourself as a negotiator, and now you are wheeling and dealing. And so, from one day to the next, I was a woman possessed, even without understanding exactly what it was I was getting myself into.