As all licensed premises in Canberra closed due to COVID-19, the George Harcourt Inn at Gold Creek found a way to keep the cheer flowing, trading scaremongering for ‘caremongering’.
Before the shutdown was enforced, the George and its community-minded staff began making heavily discounted and nutritious takeaway meals for disadvantaged groups in Canberra – mainly pensioners, senior citizens and people with a disability – saving them from frustrating trips to supermarkets where the shelves were often stripped or prices had climbed beyond their means.
“We had probably a dozen elderly people who all had the same story of going to the supermarket and coming home empty-handed. It’s so distressing for them especially because they’re taking a risk just by going out, so who’s going to help them?” asked publican Josh Leemhuis.
Patrons were encouraged to make a donation to support the effort. Within 24 hours, the George had received about $6500. The ball was well and truly rolling. One lady alone donated $200.
That was last week.
Then came Sunday.
“It was a really good idea on Saturday, but after Sunday night, the situation had changed with the PM saying that pubs and clubs would be shut down. We had been able to serve about 120 meals.
“We still have about another 500 meals that can be donated to various places.”
Those 500 meals are still available for people in need and Josh and his team will continue distributing more, although the shutdown and influx of donations mean they’ve had to pause receiving further funds.
The George Harcourt Inn has closed its doors (as required) but has opened a van in the car park that will continue to serve meals to people who need them most, in line with directives that takeaway meals can continue to be sold.
The George’s brother pub, the Casey Jones Pub, is also doing a discounted takeaway menu with lots of seafood, chicken and pizza meals.
“We’re scrambling to reinvent our business and one of the things we’re going to keep doing is have our food van parked in the car park,” Josh says.
Josh and team George are also hoping they can connect with other commercial kitchens that have been forced to shut down to continue the good work.
“We all have commercial-grade kitchens, with highly trained chefs and great staff. If we can get to a point where we are supplying these sort of meals to Canberra people who are isolated or elderly, then it really unburdens a lot of our industry,” Josh explains.
Josh said packing up furniture was hard enough when the pub closed, but not as hard as telling staff there wasn’t enough work for them. He hopes the food van will help retain some staff while helping the community in a time of need.
“The staff came in here to help us pack the furniture and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the pub. It’s a pretty hard thing to do to pack up 800 or 900 pieces of furniture knowing we won’t be using them again for six months,” Josh says.
“All our staff rocked up today because they’re just used to rocking up – they don’t know what else to do at the moment either.”
He said the food van is a way to maintain the connection that people have with the hospitality industry during the shutdown.
“We want to be known as the guys that really fought to the end and not because there was a profit margin,” says Josh.
“Everyone in the hospitality sector is in the same boat and this is what we should be focusing on instead of all the people hoarding toilet paper.”
The takeaway food van is open on a daily basis at the George Harcourt Inn, Gold Creek. Check out their Facebook page for information.