Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) Acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Narrm, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present, and to Elders of all First Nations communities that visit MCEC.

An image showing a woman demonstrating cooking a meal at a table outdoors surrounded by produce, with a group of people standing around the table and watching with curiosity.

MCEC Employees Volunteer with OzHarvest

By Deni Kirkova|

Recently, five MCEC employees went behind the scenes at OzHarvest, jumping into a big yellow van to zoom across Melbourne rescuing food destined for land fill.

One of the great things about working at MCEC is having the opportunity to give back to the community. We partner with charitable organisations like OzHarvest, Melbourne Skyfarm and Launch Housing that make a real difference to people and the environment.

Recently, five MCEC employees got to go behind the scenes at OzHarvest by jumping into a big yellow van to zoom across Melbourne. They battled wild October weather to collect food destined for landfill and deliver it to Victorians in need.

Assisting a friendly OzHarvest driver, our people including Vanessa Draga, Community Engagement Specialist, Helen Fairclough, Chief Operating Officer, Deni Kirkova, Copywriter, and casual employees Thomas Tang and Tash Hortis rolled up their sleeves for a day of food rescue.

They helped collect excess food from numerous donors and drop it off to OzHarvest select agencies, which are organisations in need such as AFM VICCARE and Red Cross.

An image showing a man standing in front of a yellow OzHarvest van with a crate of food, holding a sign that says, 'OzHarvest Melbourne have delivered 25 million meals.'
Jabulani from AFM VICCARE holding a sign marking the incredible day that OzHarvest donated 25 million meals in Victoria

Each day started by meeting their driver and getting kitted out in a yellow top at the OzHarvest office in Port Melbourne before commencing their route collecting produce from donors. After collecting substantial amounts of food, volunteers dropped it off to recipients from all walks of life.

OzHarvest Melbourne has 8 routes and 8 vehicles on the road, rescuing 30,000kg of quality surplus food each week. That’s 60,000 nourishing meals delivered to 112 charity agencies from Werribee to Epping to Rosebud.

Though the experience was eye-opening, memorable and rewarding, most volunteers were shocked at the volume of food collected from each business.

“The amount of food waste is astonishing,” said Vanessa, who heads up the partnership. “Seeing it firsthand really makes you think twice about buying unnecessary food.

At the start of the day, my amazing driver Mick gave me a snazzy yellow shirt and explained how the day would run. We jumped into the famous OzHarvest yellow van and off we went, servicing businesses and charities along inner and southeast suburbs from South Melbourne to Frankston.

“Along the route we stopped at many small and larger Woolworths to pick up food no longer needed. Then, we dropped it off at various charities including aged care, drop-in centres, community centres plus emergency and refuge accommodation. Helping a vast number of vulnerable communities was the highlight of the day. Although sad, it was incredible to see how the whole process worked.

“I chose to volunteer because I wanted to experience the work I talk about and lend a hand where I can to those who need it. I feel so proud and passionate about the work we do here at MCEC with OzHarvest, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this.”

Here at MCEC, as a part of our sustainability initiative , we have donated more than 5,000kg of food to OzHarvest in the 10 months of 2022 so far. Some other major donors include Woolworths, Aldi and Costco, who often donate enormous 24-packs of croissants and cakes that go down very well.

An image showing an MCEC employee wearing a yellow OzHarvest t-shirt taking a selfie of her smiling in front of various yellow OzHarvest vans.

Helen Fairclough, who looks after MCEC Operational Services, said: "We started first thing in the morning on the westside, picking up from supermarkets, A2 Milk and Marley Spoon. We then dropped off the produce to a local aged care centre, community centre, church and Helping Hands Mission, all of whom were incredibly grateful for the abundance of produce and supplies.

"It was pouring rain, and when we were at one of the places dropping off food, everyone pitched in to help unload the truck as quickly as we could and get the produce safely inside. I had rain literally flying off my nose! We were so drenched that we had to go to a local shopping centre toilet block to dry off. Seeing the joy of the people receiving the food at the other end was my highlight.

"My driver Justin was a chef, and he talked to me about how COVID made him look for other opportunities and now how he only cooks one day a week at a local café and the rest of his week is spent working with OZHarvest. He said he finds his role with OzHarvest reducing food waste and helping those in need really fulfilling."

Our MCEC volunteers got to play a small part in supporting the delivery of 25 million meals that OzHarvest have now given to people in need in Victoria.

An image showing two people - one holding a cardboard box of food and wearing a yellow OzHarvest t-shirt, and the other wearing a black hoodie and a yellow high vis vest doing a thumbs up - standing and smiling in front of a yellow OzHarvest van.

Deni, MCEC's Copywriter, said: “My driver was Tony, 62, a British expat like me. He told me all about his two wonderful kids and leaving a lucrative career in advertising for this rewarding gig. Chatting, soundtrack by RRR, we chugged along the Cranbourne Route on a sunnier-than-usual October day.

“Our 10-stop itinerary was busy from morning to late afternoon, lifting crates of fresh produce, drinks, snacks, baked goods and freezer staples from loading docks to the back of Bert the HINO truck (yes, named after a Muppet) then out again. We paused only for Tony to get petrol while I grabbed us coffees, and a brief lunch break.

“Tony knows each donor and each agency well, he knows how to weigh crates by hand and the best routes – ‘Seaford or Mornington, so you can have lunch by the beach’. He told me about the other vans and trucks: Ernie, of course, Big Bird, seems obvious – big and yellow, and Oscar the Grouch.

“My day was very special: we were celebrating OzHarvest Melbourne delivering 25 million meals since starting up in Melbourne 8 years ago (they’ve been running in Australia for longer). It was a feelgood, humbling experience that I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of.”

As part of MCEC's partnership with OzHarvest, we provide a home for their corporate engagement program, Cooking for a Cause. The unique team building activity teaches zero-waste cooking skills, while transforming rescued ingredients into gourmet meals that get distributed to vulnerable communities via the daily OzHarvest van runs.

An image showing a group of 11 people standing in a commercial kitchen surrounded by ingredients, all wearing yellow OzHarvest aprons.

Vanessa commented: "After my day volunteering, I felt incredibly privileged to be able to provide food for myself and my family without worrying where our next meal will come from. It was also amazing to see the journey of how food is prepared at MCEC through Cooking for a Cause classes in our kitchen to being delivered to people in need."

Thomas Tang, who is a casual employee, said: "The highlight of my van volunteering day was distributing the tub of sandwich rolls leftover from an event at MCEC that I had packed myself earlier on in the week. One thing I found amazing about OzHarvest is that the food they rescue throughout the day is immediately given away and distributed to various charities and help centres that very same afternoon.

"It breaks my heart every time I have to chuck food out, so being able to rescue food and work alongside the amazing people at OzHarvest was a truly rewarding and eye-opening experience for me."

Combined, the MCEC team rescued around 5,000kg of excess food and delivered 10,000 meals to numerous agencies. In FY 2020/21, MCEC recovered more than 17 tonnes food waste through meal donations to OzHarvest and onsite organic waste processing. We continue working to find innovative solutions that provide better outcomes for our community, our customers and our environmental footprint.

Considering options for your next food and wine event? Reach out to the team and discover the difference.