Like the financial year before it, 2020-21 has been a challenging year. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continued and NSW was hit by flooding, in many cases in the same locations affected by the Black Summer bushfires. 

In the aftermath of bushfires, the continued uncertainty of COVID-19 and the fresh heartache of floods across the state, the 2020-21 financial year tested us all with challenge after challenge.

Throughout these trying times many have asked ‘when will the tide turn?’ As an organisation committed to offering a hand up to those facing hardship, the Society sees these times as a chance to rise and come to the fore.

The Society is fortunate to have the strength of the Strategic Plan 2020-2022 anchoring our good works. The Strategic Plan was the perfect roadmap to weather the effects of COVID-19 and to sustainably provide support across a diverse range of services – even with the losses in revenue from the temporary closures of Vinnies Shops.

Our members, volunteers and staff demonstrate unwavering commitment towards helping people in need and are at the heart of who we are and the work we do. We sincerely thank them for their incredible contribution this past year.

We would also like to express our thanks to the Board, which was able to continue to function effectively despite some unusual challenges. We would especially like to thank Terry Clout, Jason Joukhador, and Richard Stewart for the contributions they made in their terms as Board members. Our thanks also to the State Council and their role in guiding our members and our mission and vision.

This annual report reflects the resilience of the Society and our ability to continue to deliver despite the difficult circumstances of the past year. It is filled with stories that speak to the mission and values of the organisation from across the whole state.

COVID forced the Society to change the way it delivered services in order to meet the needs of our community. Many of those we assisted, we have come to know over time, but this past year we were also meeting many who were turning to us for help for the first time.

A great example of this has been the COVID -19 vaccination program that began at the Ozanam Learning Centre in May 2020. This program was in collaboration with St Vincent’s Hospital, the City of Sydney, and the Kirketon Road Centre. Its impact was remarkable. The program provided more than 200 vaccinations each week to people experiencing various forms of disadvantage, and homelessness. Our health team created a COVID-safe space that could accommodate these significant numbers, an inspiring achievement.

In our services, ranging from homelessness and domestic violence to health and disability, our staff and volunteers were committed to finding ways to continue operations throughout the pandemic and deliver the help people needed.

Our members and conferences were also called upon to innovate to ensure they could keep providing support to those in need. Unfortunately, COVID put a stop to home visitations, so our members used phone calls and video chats to keep in touch with the people we assist. Dropping off food became a contactless affair to keep everyone safe. In cases where it was too difficult to provide food directly, vouchers were distributed to make sure the people we assist still had enough to eat.

Our Bushfire Community Grants program allows communities devastated by the Black Summer of two years ago to once again stand tall. More than a million dollars has so far been committed in Community Grants enabling scores of grassroots organisations in bushfire devastated areas to work on a variety of community-based initiatives ranging from cultural burning programs, restoring community halls, to nurturing the arts in regional centres. Having personally visited recipients, like Noah’s Inclusion Service in Ulladulla, it’s heartening to see how something simple like the revitalisation of a children’s play area can change peoples’ lives for the better. At the same time, our Bushfire Community Development program received a boost – from $1.2 million committed to $2.2 million – which will see it extended through to the end of 2022. Our Community Grants are focussed on revitalisation of hard-hit areas, and our Community Development works to improve community and individual resilience and disaster preparedness in the future.

It is pleasing to note that the restructure we embarked upon prior to the COVID pandemic has helped the Society navigate our way through the 2020-21 financial year. In fact, despite the disruption caused since the outbreak of COVID, our fundraising efforts have remained strong and our Vinnies Shops were able to recover well. . We reduced the Society’s deficit, made structural savings across the board, and placed ourselves in good standing for the future. The average overall progress towards completion of our year two goals for the Strategic Plan 2020-2022 is a remarkable 84 per cent.

All areas of the Society have been hard at work improving and refining our operations this past year. The Society has developed a membership growth strategy focussed on youth recruitment and improving consultation with our members. Leadership teams have been established in all regions and are now meeting regularly and sharing information to inform local strategy. We have expanded the diversity of our fundraising portfolio and used data analysis to improve our campaigns and drive donations. Vinnies Assist is now a central point for people seeking help and it is providing an improved experience and consistent level of care. All this work creates greater efficiency and effectiveness.

The Society successfully introduced a hub and spoke model for Vinnies Shops that has created opportunities for structural savings and improved sales. Shops have introduced a new way of doing business in Tweed Heads and South West Sydney, and due to its success we are planning to roll it out elsewhere in NSW. This new model delivers increased sorting efficiencies, the ability for linked Vinnies Shops to share stock and improved financial reporting.

We have implemented significant change to our logistics operations with a focus on data measurement and efficiency. This new reporting system gives us a stronger understanding of the business and allows us to improve our productiveness and to better plan for the future based on what the data tells us. In addition to the large-scale reforms of logistics processes in the metropolitan region, we also acquired new trucks to replace vehicles in our ageing fleet.
The combination of all of these factors has allowed us to weather the pandemic in the 2020-21 financial year and emerge stronger, despite the challenges it has presented.

COVID’s lesson for everyone, but particularly for organisations providing services to people experiencing disadvantage, is that this kind of resilience is needed to meet existing and emerging needs. Throughout the year, our conferences and services have shared a common theme; many in our communities are turning to us for assistance for the very first time. We know that poverty and disadvantage do not discriminate, that it can happen to anyone. The pandemic has proven this beyond doubt.

Even through the most difficult of times, the Society is here and ready to help. The work we began with the Strategic Plan 2020-2022 has charted our path and enabled us to deliver impactful and invaluable support for the most disadvantaged during this very difficult time.

We thank you for your ongoing commitment and support.

John McKendry – Chair

Jack de Groot – CEO