Two men who helped St Vincent de Paul keep the Night Patrol on the road through a year of lockdowns and disruptions have been named winners of the VolunteeringACT 2021 Volunteer Manager of the Year Award.
Mansour Buges and Sean Curtis worked seven nights a week for several months, delivering food and clothes to people who needed them and providing as much support as they could, despite the pandemic.
Mansour, 31, who has been working as a Night Patrol program manager for almost a year, said he originally became involved because he wanted to help his community.
Sean, 22, became a manager for St Vincents in July 2021 and decided to become involved with the Night Patrol because it provided support and ongoing assistance for people in need.
“The Night Patrol is very much centred on connectivity … going out there and checking in on people in a sort of laidback atmosphere, where you provide them with light refreshments and you’re able to chat to them and offer support and give that genuine connection that everybody needs,” Sean said.
During lockdown, the Night Patrol was one of the few services that remained open, making extra hours for Mansour and Sean.
“By September, we experienced a high demand for our services,” Sean said. “People coming to the vans didn’t have other services to fall back on, so we were just trying to do what we could to keep as much going to those people as possible.”
Mansour said they never missed a single day of operating.
“People were isolated already during this time, so it was extremely important for us to keep the service going and help however we could,” Mansour said.
“Being one of the only services open during this time, we never felt alone as an organisation as we had the community behind us.”
Sean added that as they couldn’t have volunteers on-call, he and Mansour had to cover these duties on top of their jobs, going out every night to keep at least one van running and ensure people who needed it had access to food and warm clothing during those COVID months.
“In the winter, it’s very cold in Canberra, so we had to make sure that the people in need had access to warm coats, sleeping bags, gloves, socks, scarves and beanies to keep them warm.”
In normal times, Mansour and Sean said their responsibilities involved overseeing more than 400 volunteers, making sure they re-stock materials for the vans going out every night and ensuring things run smoothly and the volunteers are well supported.
They also look over the logistics of the program, manage St Vinnies sponsorship deals, as well as managing material donations such as jumpers, jackets and other clothes to make sure they’re in a useable condition for the people they provide for.
The Night Patrol managers are thankful for the support of the community and the organisations that helped them continue running last year, such as OzHarvest, who provided snacks and drinks and Origin Bakery, who supplied them with bread.
“It was a really good experience to go out during the lockdown every night … it enriched life just to be able to talk to people every single night and really develop some personal connections with our companions,” Sean said.
“We have a lot of people to thank for their support because it was a team effort and it’s just really great to be recognised.”
St Vinnies Special Works community program manager Mandy Larsson said Mansour and Sean were real leaders in the community and were always the first ones to put their hands up to help when other programs needed support.
“It’s so great to see that it’s not just a job for these two, it’s beyond that and as a society we are unbelievably proud of them both, as well as being proud of our Vinnies Phillip retail centre manager Kathy Morris, who was a finalist in this award as well,” she said.