HAWKESBURY'S Helping Hands of Windsor and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT at Glossodia have been recognised in the 2020 NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards for the Hawkesbury and Hills regions, and will now go on to battle against the best volunteers of NSW.
Linda Strickland won the Adult Volunteer of the Year award for the Sydney North West region at a virtual conference on Wednesday.
Ms Strickland established the volunteer-run program Hawkesbury's Helping Hands nine years ago to provide nourishing food, clothes and support to homeless people living in the region.
She is a tireless volunteer and supporter to many people in need of help, and her program also provides lunch, school starter packs and has even provided formal wear to students in need.
"It takes a team and a village of volunteers; my name was called, but this award really belongs to everyone who helps us and donates," Ms Strickland told the Gazette.
"Since the fires last year, we have been going nearly every day. During that time, we took lots of van-loads of food up there [to the fire-affected areas], then the Hawkesbury was hit by floods and then straight into COVID. Our services for food relief has gone up 400 per cent; we're probably one of the largest distributors of food in Western Sydney now."
She said the service was "adapting daily", yet still went out every Saturday and Sunday night to Howe Park to feed the homeless. They also run the Homeless Hub on Wednesdays from 9-11am, where they have multiple services on site including Wentworth Housing, Aboriginal support workers and mental health workers. They'll be starting hearing tests in the next couple of weeks.
Almost 60 volunteers from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT won Volunteer Team of the Year for their Canine Court Companion Program, which sees them attend 11 court locations throughout Sydney and regional NSW with their trained therapy dogs.
They help decrease anxiety and distress often felt by people attending court such as domestic violence victims and their families. The program began in Manly three years ago and has now just been extended to Taree.
Therapy Dog Program Coordinator Samantha O'Keeffe said the award gave her team a real boost amid the pressures of COVID-19.
"They've not been able to get out and do their visits as they typically do, so having this award has really lifted their spirits," Ms O'Keeffe said.
"It was really unexpected too, considering the people we were up against, including St John's Ambulance and the Girl Scouts, so I'm really proud."