SYDNEY (Reuters) – Bilal El-Hayek and friend and volunteer Amer Yassine carry boxes of packaged meals onto the front porch of Darlene, a single mother of seven including three she is fostering.
From a distance, El-Hayek, a councillor for the city of Canterbury Bankstown in Sydney’s southwest, exchanges a few words with Darlene to check on how she is coping under lockdown.
“We’re just trying to help out as much as possible. It’s been a tough, tough situation,” said El-Hayek, 34, of his effort to deliver food to vulnerable people in his community during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“People lost their jobs. People lost their businesses. People have high mortgages. It’s pretty devastating out there.”
Although Australia has avoided the high coronavirus numbers of many other countries, the rapid spread of the Delta variant and a slow vaccine rollout have left the country vulnerable.
About three-quarters of New South Wales state’s nearly 5,000 active cases come from nine Sydney local government districts, an urban sprawl stretching about 12 km (7.5 miles) southwest of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
Residents of Sydney’s Bayside area and two other council areas went into a harsh lockdown on Thursday as they border the Canterbury Bankstown council area, which has the city’s highest number of COVID-19 cases, according to state health authorities.
Residents have had movement limited to within 5 km of their homes and masks are mandatory when outdoors.
El-Hayek helps deliver some of 1,000 pre-cooked meals prepared by the Greater Western Sydney football club and a charity programme called Lighthouse Community Support to those struggling financially or unable to leave their homes.
Having immigrated to Australia with his family from Lebanon when he was 11, El-Hayek has developed a passion to serve his community. Besides serving as a city councillor, he also works with youth.
Driving to the next house, he relates a story about an elderly woman who was so grateful for the boxed meals she received that she tried to make a donation, despite facing financial difficulties herself.
“If people want to know why we do this, this is a really good example, perfect example. It just puts life into perspective,” El-Hayek said, adding he had to plead with her not to give money.
“The vulnerable, the poor are always more thankful and always more generous. Amazing,” said his friend Yassine.
(Reporting by Jill Gralow; Editing by Karishma Singh and Tom Hogue)