When the South Western Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) palliative care service was suspended on March 17, 2020, palliative care volunteers were recruited to form a COVID-19 team tasked with adapting to COVID safe ways of working to maintain the bereavement activity.
At a time when visiting restrictions were in place, limited people at funerals, border closures and no memorial services, the volunteers supported bereaved families right through the pandemic.
Their dedication was recognised with the Western Sydney Volunteer Team of the Year award at the recent NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards which are run by The Centre for Volunteering to recognise the outstanding effort of volunteers throughout the state.
Some of the ways they supported families included: bereavement packs, providing telephone contact numbers to access support services, handwritten condolence cards and a follow-up letter. They also supported patients and their carers via the telephone with 42-hours worth of calls logged in the last financial year and volunteers came on board to play and sing through an online platform from their homes for inpatients in the dedicated palliative care ward.
The Always Loved Group, Bossley Trio and Ingleburn Library Knitting Group Ladies enabled the service to launch the Butterfly Box project in 2020 which provided a homely environment within a dying patients' hospital room. In the boxes are bed/pillow runners, a coverlet, battery operated candles, tray and silk flowers.
In the same year the Into the Dreaming Resource Boxes were established, which provide a culturally safe space within a deceased Aboriginal patient's hospital room for their family and community.
The Centre for Volunteering chief executive Gemma Rygate said the past 12 months have been "tough".
"...But volunteers have continued to dig deep to support their local communities through this adversity," she said.
"In many cases they've had to find totally new ways of volunteering through the pandemic, but they've never given up, they've worked around it and shown enormous resilience."
Kate Hoang from Cabramatta was named the Adult Volunteer of the Year. Kate organised the Red Cross appeal that saw the Vietnamese Community in Australia (VCA) NSW Chapter raise $50,000 for bushfire victims.
She also organised and livestreamed online ceremonies for the 45th commemoration of the fall of Saigon and the 45th anniversary of Vietnamese settlement in Australia and organises medical forums within the Vietnamese community.
Rosina Armstrong - Mensah of Wattle Grove was recognised for supporting vulnerable people seeking assistance as part of Parramatta Mission's Meals Plus volunteer team with the Young Volunteer of the Year award.
Each week Rosina lends a hand each week to prepare, cook and serve breakfast and lunch, as well as unpacking, sorting and providing donations to those in need. A role which has been vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The awards are supported by principal partners the NSW Department of Communities and Justice and ClubsNSW.
Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Alister Henskens said the awards recognises volunteers who have "gone above and beyond anything that could be expected of them in what has been an immensely challenging year."
"Volunteers are everyday people who do amazing things for their community, and I am inspired by them devoting their precious time and energy to benefit others," he said.
ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis said: "After the challenges we have all endured over the past 18 months, the efforts and sacrifices of our state's volunteers feel more significant than ever before...We are so proud to support these awards and I congratulate all the volunteers who were recognised for their dedication and their commitment. Every single one of you is a winner."