Early last year Ash Botheras took her first tentative steps towards becoming the support for her community and the role model for her young girls that she had always wanted to be.
“I’m constantly filled with self-doubt. I don’t always trust my decision-making ability. But last year I looked in the mirror and decided I was all in,” she said.
She joined up with Feed It Forward – a network of volunteers who rescue food from supermarkets, and other donors – and began distributing groceries from her doorstep once a week.
“I realised my passion extremely fast – I went from one collection a week to six. And then I realised that it wasn’t just food that people needed, but clothes, workwear, household items, school supplies,” she said.
She began a community shed in her garage where people could drop by on a Sunday afternoon and take anything they needed, and leave something behind if they were able.
On a ‘big week’ she’d help up to 300 struggling locals and families.
For some, the opportunity to just connect with someone else was worth more than the gifted items.
“A lot of the people coming here are really isolated – they don’t have family or government support,” she said.
“So, I open up my living room for people. I’ve always said it’s not just about the food – I’m here to listen too.”
One year later and her passion, drive and dedication have earned her widespread gratitude, and the City of Armadale’s top community honour – something she’s still trying to wrap her head around.
“I’m not really good at taking recognition but when the mayor told me I’d been nominated for ‘Citizen of the Year’ by quite a few people it really hit me the impact I was having,” she said.
And she’s just launched her own registered not-for-profit, Hope For Change.
“Feed it Forward has been a major supporter of Hope For Change and the local community, our collaboration has been invaluable,” she said.
“My dream now would be to have a warehouse that’s open for longer hours where we could stock a large range of things that people really need. I’d also like to support a breakfast club. We’re only just starting to realise the possibilities.”
Her desire to help those most in need came from one of her lowest ebbs in life.
In 2021, while pregnant with her youngest daughter, and recovering from back injuries herself, her partner was severely injured at work.
The family experienced life on the bread line while waiting for workers compensation to be awarded.
“We went through eight months with not one cent coming in – we were on the verge of starvation,” she said.
“That’s when we found Feed It Forward, who really looked after us and helped us survive.”
As soon as the pair were back on their feet, Ash knew she needed to ‘feed it forward’.
Ash and her “very supportive partner” used all their savings to enable her to carry on the volunteer work full-time.
In fact, the whole family has chipped in, not even resting for Christmas or New Year, which happens to be Ash’s birthday.
“I know what it’s like to worry what’s going to be under the tree this year, or what is going to be on the table for dinner tonight. It’s a horrible feeling. So, I was adamant we wouldn’t close – I said to people ‘don’t stress out, you’re not going to go hungry,” she said.
It’s been a massive personal undertaking, but Ash said it’s also been incredibly rewarding.
“I lived such a different life before this – I’ve made lots of mistakes and I wasn’t proud of who I was,” she said.
“I can’t express how much this charity has contributed to my life and my own happiness. I know I’m a different person now.”