Bags of Love Op Shop: Helping Injured Workers Heal

 
'Bags of Love' is a program initiated by Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson, Founder of Work Injured Resource Connection (WIRC) in South Australia. An injured worker herself, Rosemary discovered the hidden hunger in households of injured workers who, for various reasons, are unable to work, and who found themselves without sufficient income to pay their living expenses and still be able to afford food. Launched in 2010, Bags of Love has recently partnered with food rescue charity OzHarvest who are supplying some of the food they rescue to the packages that go to injured workers and their families. WIRC have a number of strategic objectives and plans, including Craig's Table, a 40 week community based training programme, community based work placement programme and coffee shop where injured workers can be meaningfully employed in a way that they can manage.
 
Tell us about what you’re working on right now?
 
Right now at the Centre we are working to strengthen the base of the Bags of Love Op Shop, which we will then use as the template to open more of these shops. The standard of service has been set by a team of injured workers.
 
bags of love op shop sign contact no 8255 9138 open fridays 10am - 2pm 118 Sampson Road Elizabeth Grove
 
The Bags of Love Op Shop also features a morning tea as a way of engaging with the wider community, so that injured workers can demonstrate the range of work that they are more than capable of doing on a consistent basis. 
The plan is to move into two shops each time, one side for the Bags of Love Op Shop and one side for Craig’s Table coffee shop, each would be 'staffed' and managed entirely by injured workers and open to the public and employers to be able to see just what is going on.
 
As this is the first time injured workers anywhere in the world have started a not-for-profit business whilst they are still on workers compensation, it is hard to actually gauge how fast the growth will be, however we have already had expressions of interest from both New South Wales and Victoria to take the concept interstate.
 
The aim is to build the Bags of Love and Craig’s Table names into a known not-for-profit brand and remove the stigma from injured workers.
 
How will your projects benefit others?
 
These initiatives have multi-faceted benefits - injured workers who have been let down by the system get to show that they are still a valuable contributor to their community, and that they have a lot of worth to offer to the community.
 
The donated goods for the large part would have ended up in landfill - the fixtures and fittings we used were no longer wanted by a major retail outlet and was destined for landfill, so in taking all of it the Centre has found a new use for old shelving.
 
op shop clothes on racks
 
The community benefits from access to quality, low-priced second hand products, and combined with the morning tea and sitting area at the Centre, people have an opportunity for an outing and social interaction, not just shopping.
All the injured workers involved gain new skills and new confidence as well as regaining their respect of self.
Employers gain injured workers who are demonstrating the ability to learn and adapt.
 
What challenges are you facing in progressing your projects?
 
Lack of funding is a major obstacle - the Centre now is far too small, but we simply do not have the funds to move let alone expand.
 
But the biggest hurdle is a collective community belief that injured workers want to sit at home on a tax-payer funded holiday.
 
It has been a massive task just to get DGR (deductible gift recipient) status. Proving to the Australian Taxation Office that injured workers and their families are at critical risk of self-harm and homelessness due to family breakdowns was a task that took almost three years, a retired CPA and an almost retired barrister to get the paperwork done.
 
Since then every grant we have applied for has been rejected on the same false belief that injured workers are not in any form of financial stress.
 
It would be good to be able to have an advertising or awareness campaign about what is being achieved by injured workers and how they have taken on an unknown challenge and risen to not just meet, but to exceed, the target set by the workers compensation system as unachievable and impossible.
 
Funding is not always in the form of money - funding could be the use of vacant buildings that the owners are planning to demolish in 12-24 months, or training and upskilling programs for injured workers.
 
Funding could be quality second vehicles that carry the logos of the donor as well as the Bags of Love and Craig’s Table logos.
 
What would success look like for your projects? Paint a picture with words!
 
The Work Injured Resource Connection's motto is 'Social equity for injured workers'. Bags of Love's motto is 'A hand up, not a hand out'. Craig’s Table's motto is 'No injured worker overlooked, no injured worker left behind.'
Success will be when:
  • Injured workers, no matter where they are, know that they have no reason to be fearful of the workers compensation industry, because they will be welcomed into a 'family' of injured workers, they will be supported through the healing process and they will be guided to return to life-community-work in a manner that is both timely and cost effective for the injured worker and the employers.
  • Injured workers and employers no longer argue in a legal setting but sit together over coffee and discuss the best suitable way forward to ensure the best of all outcomes for both parties.
  • No child goes hungry or no family is broken because of a workplace injury.
  • The laughter that fills the Centre replaces all the tears of injured workers everywhere.
  • Injured workers no longer have to hide their workers compensation history.
  • There is the realisation that injured workers can and do do the most amazing things because they have a support network around them that gets excited by every milestone no matter how tiny or how large.
  • The money generated in keeping injured workers churning through the system is invested into real assistance.
  • An injured worker smiles and knows they have a future worth pursuing.
Success will be when I can sleep all night, every night of every week, without an injured worker calling in the middle of the night out of sheer terror, and needing to be comforted and supported so as possible suicide contemplation does not become a reality. 
 
What three things do you most need right now?

 

Larger premises to explore what more is possible for injured workers. It needs to be big enough to house a men’s shed so that the men can have the time and space that they need to heal the emotional and mental, as well as the physical, aspects of their lives. The premises also needs to have a large kitchen to provide meals for the Bags of Love emergency food project, and to house the Bags of Love Op Shop and Craig’s Table Coffee Shop.

  • Funding to cover wages of key people. 
It is exceedingly difficult to cover all the things that are needed without funding to pay real wages. Currently everyone at the Centre works their heart and soul out for no income other than the food they get to take home. Whilst the food does ease the family budget, it does not cover what the key people should be paid.
  • Recognition for the real and very tangible changes that are being made at the Centre within the workers compensation industry.
Every injured worker past and present at the Centre has added to the changes that culminated in the opening of the Bags of Love Op Shop. Every one of them needs to be acknowledged for their part in turning the focus from negative to possible and achievable for injured workers. Those who get to wear the Bags of Love t-shirts wear them with true pride. There is much more to achieve, such as the Injured Worker Card which I envision to be equal to a CentreLink health Care Card, which enables injured workers would gain the benefits of lower school fees and lower registration for motor vehicles etc.
 
There is also the Work Health + Safety series of books for children aged from 6 months to 13 years so that children everywhere get to learn about the importance of self safety, home safety, school safety and public place safety before they venture into the workplace.
 
There is the Bags of Love product label, everything from homemade sauces and jams to quality second hand products via the Bags of Love Op Shop to bumper stickers to golf fund raising days (actually make that basketball, as I played basketball - I have played golf, but could never see the point to it).
 
Injured workers form a large component of the community, and every type of paid employment except for one has an equal community volunteer requirement.
 
There is absolutely no reason for injured workers not to be engaged within the community aspects of their own community - except currently the workers compensation industry makes a great deal of money out of de-employing injured workers.
 
It is possible to turn all of that around and have injured workers retraining at the same time they are filling roles that need to be filled within the community.
 
Injured teachers could be teaching in community settings the children who a falling behind in mainstream education.
 
Injured bus drivers could be driving smaller community buses.
 
Injured chefs/cooks could be cooking quality food out of rescued foods for the wider community.
 
Injured hair dressers could be teaching grooming skills to school children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
 
As I have always said, there is only one job that does not have a community equal, and that is a munitions expert - everything else can be replicated within the community.
 
All it takes is a change of mindset. Click here to learn more about WIRC
 
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This interview with Rosemary was originally published at Share Adelaide.
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