Last year I found out about a wonderful local organisation called Mama Lana’s Community Foundation and I wanted to share a few of the wonderful things Mama Lana’s does selflessly for the local community. See below for more information about Mama Lana’s and an interview with one of the volunteers about their library for the homeless and disadvantaged patrons.
I also wanted share the details of one of their major fundraisers this year, the Fake It ’til You Make It Tribute Band Festival on Saturday the 17th October at Penrith Paceway.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It is Australia’s biggest Tribute Band festival and includes some of the best tribute bands in the country. Starting at 2pm, it is a day of fun and enjoyment for all the family with some fantastic music and entertainment until late into the night. Tickets can be purchased HERE from Ticketek.
About Mama Lana’s: Mama Lana’s is a wholly not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping our often forgotten homeless and underprivileged community in the greater Penrith region. They currently provide hot meals four nights a week, supply food and toiletry packs, and clothing and blankets to keep them warm during the colder months. They also assist Torton Place Penrith and the Ross Hutchison Foundation, as well as other local charities, hostels and drop in centres.
Mama Lana’s also liaise on behalf of the patrons with Centrelink, Penrith Council, Department of Housing and other resource centres and government departments to help the patrons any way we can to make their lives more comfortable and bearable, as well as seeking to find long term solutions to better their circumstance. Each night we are seeing new faces, reinforcing to us that the need for our service is necessary.
The Mama Lana’s Library
I love a library! And so do many people. Another wonderful thing that Mama Lana’s provides to the homeless and underprivileged is a mobile library. I asked Shae, a dedicated Mama Lana’s volunteer and expert book-lover about her thoughts on the library and the positive benefits of books being readily available to the patrons when they drop for a warm meal.
How long have you been running the library? Was it your idea? Are all the books donated?
Shae: I started the library with my friend Beth in Feb 2014 and we have been running ever since, with the addition of another friend, Beck . We are under the bridge every Monday night and we take around six carry-on luggage suitcases full, a box of magazines, plus a box of puzzle books, notebooks and pens/pencils (we give these out but all books and magazines are for borrowing only).
We try to “rotate the stock” very week or so, so there are always fresh titles available. All the books and magazines have been donated from supporters which is amazing, and for which we are so thankful! We have hundreds of books in the library and frequently replace old titles with new ones (i.e. we review what has/hasn’t been borrowed or had much interest and replace them with things people are asking for.)
If someone has a particular title, author or genre they are interested in we either bring them from the collection or we ask supporters if they are able to donate what we are after. Any books that are not suitable due to lack of interest, or we get double ups of (sometimes triple ups – Tom Clancy and Dan Brown, I’m looking at you) we hold on to them to sell at fundraising events instead. We also love coffee table books as they are often popular for people just to browse through while they are enjoying their meal. We’ll be having a book stall at the Fake It Festival as well.
Our supporters are incredible – it usually doesn’t take long at all for them to answer the call of a request. We’ve had hard-to-find old-style Westerns donated, whole series of particular authors, even a massive box of Top Gear magazines which the beautiful donor has delivered from the central coast! It would have cost a bomb! We truly appreciate the support we receive, not only for the library but for Mama Lana’s as a whole.
If anyone has any books they want to donate can they contact Mama Lana’s or you?
Shae: Yes, they can either PM the Mama Lana’s Facebook page, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Usually we ask them to drop the donations at Storage King Penrith (to Reception) as I’m unable to collect from people. If they can’t access Mama Lana’s due to distance, I recommend contacting The Footpath Library which is an extensive network set up in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth providing books to the homeless community, or contacting their local homeless services or women’s shelter etc.
As a basic rule we don’t accept chick lit or women’s fiction for the library but are happy to accept if for fundraising stock if the donor is okay with that. Sci-fi/Fantasy is also another genre that doesn’t really work in the library but does sell well.
We steer clear of anything that can be trigger topics such as sexual abuse or violent crime, as we do have patrons for whom these topics are very upsetting. We do take kids’ books as we have a few children under the bridge, however we keep these to a minimum.
What benefits have you noticed from people being able to access books? (mental stimulation/distraction/creating discussion, reconnect with a past interest / reliving stress / engagement / a sense of belonging)
Shae: All of the above – readers, particularly homeless readers such as rough sleepers or train riders, may not be able to access the public library for borrowing. We offer a service they appreciate as reading not only fills their time but provides mental stimulation, enjoyment, distraction – all the things you mentioned. It also allows us to engage with people – we have many an interesting discussion about the books, or topics they raise. Generally we have a regular set of patrons who use the library, even just to browse, so we know them very well now and tend to carry conversations on from the week before, or they come back saying they’d learned something new about the previous discussion. We’ve also learnt a heck of a lot from our patrons!
You are a passionate reader – I am sure this transfers well to the everyone borrowing books. I’m sure you have some wonderful discussions. -What is a usual night like under the bridge?
Shae: We have many similar interests in reading and that allows to have meaningful interactions. Harry Potter is a huge topic for myself and Mr N. – we discuss it almost every week and never tire of it. He’ll come to me and say something like “ If you could invent a spell, what would it be?” or “Which subject would you want to teach and why?” and off we go for an hour or more! We have established some terrific relationships with our patrons through these interactions. We’ve even come to the stage that we choose a new title and try to read it at the same time so we can discuss it like a book club.
But a usual night is us arriving at 8pm, a few of our regular patrons assisting us in unloading the car (those suitcases are heavy!). We set up while people are getting their meals, then we begin! Some nights we have heaps of people browsing and borrowing, other nights it’s just browsing and discussion.
As we work on an honour system (i.e. we don’t have library cards or take anyone’s name down for the books they are borrowing) we establish trust with our patrons as they know when they return the books to us they fulfilling our “handshake agreement” and being fair to others who want to enjoy our library as well. Since we opened, I would say we have only had around 10 to 20 books not returned, and that is usually because the person has moved on and we have lost contact, which we completely understand under their circumstances. We once had a gentleman return books to us after 6 months because he had travelled interstate and then eventually come back – he didn’t want us to think he had stolen them! New patrons are usually pretty excited to see the set-up but can often be unsure about whether they allowed to borrow because it’s their first time at the meal service. We make sure we explain the system to them, let them feel comfortable to browse etc. It’s lovely to see their eyes light up when they know they are able to borrow up to six books for as long as they need them.
We have been extremely lucky to have the most incredible collapsible book display stands built for us by one of our patrons (see picture below). This not only LOOKS amazing, but also assists any less-able patrons in browsing the collection – previously we could only display the books in the suitcases on the ground which was very difficult for some who have physical limitations. Now they are displayed as beautifully as any bookshop thanks to Mr J. and his creative talent and generosity.
Tribute Band Festival – BUY tickets at Ticketek
Fake It ‘Til You Make It is Australia’s biggest Tribute Band festival and includes some of the best tribute bands in the country.
If these were the real bands, it would be the festival from heaven. The bands have been hand chosen to be professional and look like and sound like the originals. The festival will have some seating but will mainly be general admission with grass sitting areas, street performers, face painting and other festivities.
It is a day of fun and enjoyment for all the family with some fantastic music and entertainment until late into the night.