Everyone's Still Here

By Seth Robinson

Kate Stewart is the Co-Founder of En Pointe Events, and a Non-Executive Director of FareShare. Now, as the world deals with the massive challenge of COVID-19, we spoke with Kate, a Bachelor of Commerce alum to find out how she handled the changes within the professional sphere.

Since March, Kate’s day-to-day has transformed. This would usually mark the beginning of one of her busiest times of year, as En Pointe prepared for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. However, with the introduction of social-distancing regulations to combat COVID-19, Kate’s calendar was suddenly empty. At the same time FareShare – a not-for-profit where Kate also serves as a Non-Executive director – reached out.

“I picked up the phone, and they basically said, ‘we need you’. FareShare had been deemed an essential service by the government, so my brief plan to spend the down time gardening with my nine-month old disappeared.”

Kate Stewart.
Kate Stewart.

FareShare operates a model that normally sees hundreds of volunteers working in their kitchens to prepare nutritional meals, which are then distributed to those in need via a network of partner organisations. Now, with the introduction of social-distancing measures, Kate was called upon to support a restructure of FareShare’s operations at a time when demand for their services was higher than ever.

“Normally, the FareShare Melbourne kitchen would cook about 30,000 meals a week. Since the onset of COVID-19, that number has increased to over 50,000, which then goes on to 420 agencies across Victoria who distribute those meals. So, we’ve had to manage that upscale while figuring out how best to maintain social distancing practices and keep our team safe. We’ve ended up shifting from our beloved volunteer workforce to a more COVID-19 resilient model – utilising a core team of skilled hospitality professionals who come in for what we’re calling ‘super shifts’ – and can work in siloed groups.  We’ve been able to make this change really quickly thanks to support from the Victorian Government, Woolworths and the ALH Group. How lucky am I to be in a role where I’ve had the chance to employ people who have lost their jobs in the hospitality sector because of COVID-19?”

Kate has also had time to reflect on how these changes may have an impact in the future, both for FareShare and the events industry.

Some of FareShare's kitchen heroes.
Some of FareShare's kitchen heroes.

“I'm a big believer that we need to keep moving forward in everything that we do. When people say, ‘I can't wait to get back to how we were or how things were,’ that to me is not progress. There’s plenty to be learnt from this time, chances to test new models, experiment with how you work and reflect on what’s important to you. It's an amazing opportunity in a way – and at FareShare we've had to really quickly adapt and test an alternative model, and the team has coped so well with the change. I think the same thing applies to the event industry, where yes, you can batten down and weather the storm and come out the other end. But for me, it's looking at what we're learning about digital engagement during this time, and how the innovations that are coming out of this time can be woven into events moving forward. How can we create the best virtual event content and utilise this platform – a chance to engage with more people from around the world, and not be limited by physical space anymore.

The skills we learn from how best to interact in a virtual environment, which we’re all having to contend with on a daily basis at the moment – and how we best managing self – are skills than can be taken with us into a post COVID world.”

Kate has some advice for students who are about to graduate and enter a very different working world.

“Everyone is still here, so you can still connect with people, maybe just in a different way. If you had it on your list to reach out to someone, reach out to them. If there's someone that you've been wanting to speak to in a workplace, speak to them! You've got nothing to lose. And if you can end up building a relationship via Zoom (or equivalent) or are able to ask some burning questions – perhaps over a walk, it's a great way to use this time. See this time as an opportunity.”

FareShare nourishes vulnerable people with healthy, cooked meals when they need them most. You can find out more about FareShare or donate here.