The act of giving her all
The hardest thing about interviewing Sarah Morris is catching up with her.
At any given Acts of Kindness (AOK) “service” the 42-year-old is in constant motion, a cheerful blur scooting between the tables where food is being freely handed out.
Within a five-minute period she’ll be putting up a table, taking short videos of the helpers for social media, breaking out some dance moves to that evening’s soundtrack or out scouting among the makeshift rough sleeper campsites for any who are hungry or just want a chat.
Ms Morris began AOK in 2020 after COVID ended her role as a Red Cross youth worker and she suddenly found herself with time on her hands.
“A friend of mine always told me that because I can’t cook for less than 10 people I should go into food services,” Ms Morris says.
“I joined a service in Martin Place.”
It was in Sydney’s centre she met AOK co-founder Paul Shiel.
“We were with different groups but we just gelled,” Ms Morris says.
“Paul was on the board of a major charity and was sick of having meetings.”
“They would need to have a meeting to determine if they could withdraw money to give one sleeping bag to a man on the street.”
“Paul said, “Well, if I’ve got a sleeping bag, why can’t I just give it to them?””
Ms Morris and Mr Shiel saw a need in the inner-Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo.
“There were no food services on a Wednesday,” Ms Morris says.
“We thought, “OK, we will just go down and see what we can do.”
“It started with 20 meals that we couldn’t give away and then within six weeks we bumped that up to 200.”
AOK is a “grassroots” service, meaning there are no paid workers or organised funding.
Ms Morris and Mr Shiel pay costs themselves where necessary.
“When I started doing this I spoke to my husband,” Ms Morris says.
“I said, “I don’t know what it is but I feel like whatever we’re doing is needed.”
“People are receiving it and they’re wanting it. It just felt right.”
“It from went from something I was doing a couple days a week and now I’m doing it seven days a week. I just love it.”
Ms Morris husband, Tom, is the household breadwinner.
They have three children aged 8, 11, and 16.
When Ms Morris learnt her local Woolworths did a daily “dump” of food they couldn’t sell she jumped at the chance to “rescue it.”
On Wednesdays AOK hands out about 200 meals plus snacks, fruit, drinks, desserts and other items when available, as well as offering free haircuts.
On Thursdays they give away about 40 meals at Wentworth Park in Glebe.
Recently AOK started a community free food pantry at Pittwater High School on the Northern Beaches.
“Especially in the more affluent areas, like the Northern Beaches. they weren’t prepared for COVID,” Ms Morris says.
“People have lost their jobs and gone through their savings.”
“They aren’t reaching out for help and that’s not OK.”
Ms Morris thinks human connection often goes missing from “business-like” bigger charities and welfare agencies.
“People want to help but they don’t know how to,” she says.
“They know if they give us a sandwich that sandwich is going to go directly to a human.”
Ms Morris thinks communities have been shattered during the COVID period.
“We’ve been told not to talk to each other during the lockdowns,” she says.
“Let’s get back to talking and connecting.”
You’ll often find Ms Morris in intent conversation with someone obviously not in “polite” society.
“It’s something you have to learn, really listening,” Ms Morris says.
“It may be something that’s not interesting for me at first, but if I listen every single human tells me something I’m interested in.”
Ms Morris thinks there is a spiritual dimension to what she does.
“I love seeing all of the church groups come down,” she says.
“It’s nice to see community groups doing a cook-up and maybe cooking 30 meals or even 10.”
“We talk about the ripple effect and that’s what it’s about.”
“Financial support is always needed we never say no to that but we’re more about trying to get humans to help humans.”
“Whatever way somebody wants to give we will try really hard to facilitate that, somehow, somewhere.”