Meet The Locals: Nat And Tiff Spary From Toowoomba BASE Services
Nat and Tiff Spary are the coordinators at Toowoomba BASE Services, a not-for-profit organisation.
BASE stands for ‘Build-up, Accept, Support and Encourage’. I spoke to Tiff about the work they’ve done with Toowoomba’s homeless over the years, and some of the new challenges they face due to the coronavirus pandemic.
How did BASE Services start?
BASE Services Inc was originally established by the Toowoomba City Church back in 1993. Since then it has become a not-for-profit, community-based organisation. It’s grown to include the Second Shot program, which provides hospitality training and skills for the homeless, as well as fundraising events, and partnerships with outreach support services.
How did you get involved?
Nat and I were both volunteering at the time and when the couple who ran Basement soup kitchen —who were in their 80s — decided they couldn’t run the kitchen any longer, they asked Nat if he would be interested. He said yes and we’re still here today.
What kind of people does BASE Services help?
We provide support and assistance to individuals and families who are experiencing or are at high risk of homelessness. In 2016, we started the Second Shot traineeship program, providing training and employment to people experiencing homelessness. We’ve been running the program for the last four years now and we’ve found it’s the most effective way to end homelessness. That’s our whole vision at BASE.
In your words, what is homelessness?
For me homelessness is not having a permanent place to call home. It’s a lack of security. It could be sleeping in parks or in cars but it could also mean couch surfing or living in a home that is overcrowded or unsafe.
How big an issue is homelessness in Toowoomba?
It’s a growing issue, we estimate that every night approximately 800 people experience some kind of homelessness in Toowoomba.
How can the local community help?
‘Homeless for a week’ is a fundraiser we do each year, where Nat goes homeless for a whole week to raise awareness for homelessness. It’s one of our major fundraisers and ensures that we can operate day-to-day. A couple of years ago, we had over 160 people join Nat for the night. It was great to see so many people get involved.
We’re hoping to do it again this year, but that all depends on the situation with COVID-19.
What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on the work you do?
It’s been really difficult. We’ve seen a huge increase in people who wouldn’t traditionally come into our soup kitchen. That could be because they’ve lost their jobs or maybe they’re from overseas and don’t have the right visa to receive Centrelink benefits.
Also, because of the new regulations, we’ve had to move Basement Soup Kitchen outside. We’re doing takeaway meals, handing out toiletries and, in some cases, giving out fruit and vegetable boxes. We’re doing everything we can to help people in this hard time and that’s one of the things I really love about BASE: we’re very adaptable. When we come across a challenge, we see it as an opportunity and we make it work.
How has the support been from the community?
It’s been fantastic. I think we have an amazing community spirit in Toowoomba. Everyone is willing to help and get involved. Just the other day we had over 80 pumpkins donated to the soup kitchen.
Lastly, I heard that you’ve met Richard Branson. Did you get to swap any philanthropist tips?
Unfortunately, not. We were catching a plane to Melbourne to pick up our Second Shot food truck which was being custom-built down there. I looked up and saw Richard Branson. Before we got off the plane, I quickly unbuckled my seatbelt and jumped out of my seat to say hello. Nat followed, and we took a photo.
Thanks for all your hard work and dedication to our Toowoomba community, Tiff, and all the best. You can find out more about Toowoomba BASE Services and make a donation at their website.
Photo credit: BASE Services Facebook page