It was watching the news and seeing the lengthy queues outside Centrelink offices that prompted Dave Jenkins into action. “I saw what was happening to everyone as a result of the coronavirus and I got extremely emotional and started crying,” he says. “I asked myself what I could do to help that was quick and easy.”

The Pizza and Wine Club in Kyneton

Dave is a chef and the owner of The Pizza and Wine Club in Kyneton, and after seeing so many people in need, he paid a visit to several of his suppliers. “My idea was to cook simple, healthy, nutritious meals,” says Dave. “I went to see Watts Fresh and Sizzlin’ Sensations and they didn’t hesitate for one moment. They said they would donate as much meat and as many vegetables as I could use.”

The next day, Dave started cooking. Now every afternoon between 3.30 and 4pm Dave offers one free home-made meal to anyone who comes in.  “All the ingredients are donated and I’m donating my time to make the dishes,” he says. “If people want to purchase more than one meal they can do that for $5 each and all the money goes to the food bank.”

Dave is providing meals for around 20 people each day, but he expects that number to grow. “We’ll continue to do this as long as it’s needed,” he says. “We’re working with Cobaw Community Health to make sure the meals get to who needs it, but anyone can come in. There are no questions asked. No conditions.”

Local people have been moved by Dave’s generosity and good will. “There’s lots of emotion at the moment – from us and from them,” he acknowledges. “We are all in a difficult situation and we are trying to make people feel as welcome as possible. The people receiving the meals are grateful but I’m also grateful to have the opportunity to help.”

Boomtown Winemakers Cooperative

Being creative, innovative and generous is second nature to many small business owners in the greater Bendigo region – an area designated as Australia’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy. And for many artisans, the impact of coronavirus has meant that they’ve had to think of inventive ways to keep their businesses going.

In Castlemaine, winemaker Tim Sproal from Boomtown Winemakers Cooperative found his wine sales dropped by around 95 per cent almost overnight. “As soon as there were restrictions on restaurants and wine bars in Melbourne, our wholesale orders dried up,” he says. “That’s the biggest part of my business so I immediately went into damage control.”

Like Dave, Tim was keen to do his bit for the community, so he gave away around 50 bottles of wine to hospitality workers, musicians and artists who had lost work. Then he looked at his options. “I’m not someone to wallow when things go wrong,” says Tim. “This lockdown is going to be the norm for a while so I knew I needed to act quickly.”

Tim joined with ShedShaker Brewery in Castlemaine to form BoomShaker – a “lockdown booze” delivery service where people can order wine from Tim or beers from ShedShaker. “We thought that by promoting BoomShaker as a shared business, we could also split delivery costs and maybe even pick up other producers along the way,” he says.

For Tim, the impact of coronavirus is that he’s now selling much more directly to his customers – a trend he thinks is here to stay. “People can vividly see the benefits of supporting local producers, particularly after the bushfires,” he says. “And people know that where they spend their money has a direct impact on their community. I’ve been blown away by the support I’ve received.”

How you can support businesses in the City of Gastronomy:

Boomtown Winemakers Cooperative – wine delivered

BoomShaker – wine from Boomtown and beer from ShedShaker delivered

The Pizza and Wine Club are offering a free takeaway meal between 3.30-4pm every day (46 High St, Kyneton)

Castlemaine Food to Go – a current list of cafes, pubs, restaurants in the Mt Alexander area offering take away and delivery

Take away and delivery options in Castlemaine, Maldon and surrounds (updated daily)

Bendigo business guide (what’s open)

Words by Lindy Alexander