Brisbane-based humanitarians Gali Blacher and Maddy Jones have made it their mission to challenge misconceptions around homelessness through their innovative social enterprise, The Good Box.
The Brisbane-based organisation aims to not only educate the public about homelessness, but also to provide a simple, transparent way to give support to people experiencing homelessness, through the provision of carefully curated gift boxes.
The Good Box was founded in 2018 after Ms Blacher and Ms Jones both witnessed the callous treatment of people experiencing homelessness while working together in Sydney.
“Every day we’d see people experiencing homelessness on the street and we’d see people walking over them like they were nothing, like they were a stone on the road,” Ms Blacher said.
The idea for the boxes came after Ms Blacher and Ms Jones noticed a common theme permeating discussions they had with people working in the area about the best way to support homeless people.
Ms Blacher said they discovered that many people were hesitant to donate money directly to homeless people for fear it would be spent on alcohol or drugs, and so The Good Box was born in an attempt to provide an alternative solution.
The Good Box gives people the chance to donate something they know will make a difference to those experiencing homelessness, by allowing them to choose one of four curated boxes of goodies that have been designed to make life more pleasant for their recipients.
Purchasers can choose from The Gals Box, The Blokes Box, The Goodies Box, and The Winter Box.
The Gals Box and The Blokes Box both contain essential items like a face towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, condoms, baby wipes, deodorant and food items.
The Goodies Box contains additional items like lip balm and a surprise item, which can vary between a cinema voucher, a book or a voucher for groceries.
The Winter Box contains additional items designed to aid against the cold weather, such as warm socks, beanies, scarves, gloves, and hoodies.
All boxes cost $19.99 each and can be purchased online from thegoodbox.com.au/shop.
Purchasers can choose to either have their box delivered directly to them so they can give it to a homeless person themselves, or to have it delivered to one of The Good Box’s charity partners for distribution.
The contents of the boxes were curated after Ms Blacher and Ms Jones engaged with people experiencing homelessness to discuss what products they needed most.
“We felt that it was essential to get people who have lived experience [with homelessness] to tell us exactly what they want and need from the boxes, and as time goes on our boxes keep progressing because we get more and more feedback,” Ms Blacher said.
The Good Box works closely with a range of charity partners across Australia to get the boxes distributed.
One such partner is Orange Sky, a charitable organisation that provides access to laundry facilities and warm showers to people experiencing homelessness via specially set up vans throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Orange Sky’s Strategic Partnership Manager Fiona Hodges said the mission of the organisation, which works in areas throughout Australia and New Zealand, reached beyond simply providing these services.
“We’re not just about the washing machines and the showers,” Ms Hodges said.
“What we’re really about is that opportunity to genuinely connect with people who are sometimes forgotten or disengaged from society, build trust with them and then eventually, hopefully, help them get back on their feet,” she said.
After recognising a gap in volunteer opportunities, Orange Sky co-founders, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, saw an opportunity to partner with The Good Box.
“The experience of chatting with people doesn’t feel comfortable with everybody so we needed other opportunities for people to get engaged with homelessness services, and understand the challenges that we face,” Ms Hodges said.
“So, we had a chat with [The Good Box] who, as a social enterprise, donate 50 per cent of their profits to Orange Sky anyway,” she said.
“It was a great opportunity to collaborate and create a program where we’re offering a corporate volunteering or team building type experience for organisations that support both our need for volunteer opportunities, but also The Good Box’s need for volunteers to pack the boxes that go out to our friends.”
“And those boxes often end up out on an Orange Sky shift, so it’s a great kind of full-circle collaborative partnership.”
Ms Hodges said The Good Box was breaking down barriers to help people understand what it’s like to experience homelessness, as well as providing hope to people who were homeless.
“The hand-written notes that they do from people who buy the boxes is a lovely touch, because it helps people know that they’re not alone out there, and that people do care,” she said.
“I think when you’re experiencing homelessness and you don’t have somewhere safe to be, and you’re in communities where people ignore you, knowing that you’ve been not only acknowledged, but thought of enough to receive a note, would be a huge boost to somebody’s confidence.”
Ms Blacher and Ms Jones said their efforts to challenge people’s misconceptions surrounding homelessness were just as important to them as the support their gift boxes provided.
For this reason, the organisation also runs group engagement programs across Australia for school groups and corporations in addition to their box giving service.
These engagement programs provide an avenue for educating students and businesses about the realities of life for people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s about the conversation,” Ms Blacher said.
“It’s about education, communication and really being able to get rid of the misconceptions surrounding homelessness,” she said.
“That’s why we decided to make these engagement programs.”
“It’s all about making people more engaged and aware of the issues, because if people experiencing homelessness feel that they are understood and people actually want to engage with them, it becomes easier for them to accept and seek help.”
In response to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Good Box’s engagement programs are now conducted via Zoom.
Ms Blacher said she was acutely aware of misjudgements surrounding direct monetary donations to people experiencing homelessness, which lead people to fear the money might be spent on alcohol or drugs.
“Just like anyone in the world, when you’re going through a bad time you may seek things that aren’t great for you,” Ms Blacher said.
“So once someone is already experiencing homelessness, you may see them drunk, and while it’s actually not a lot of them, those people have become homeless for many other reasons and are now seeking something to make them feel better in such tragic circumstances,” she said.
Ms Blacher said after she began to have conversations with people experiencing homelessness, it became clear alcohol and drug dependency was not as common a problem for homeless people as society might think.
“When people see [a homeless person drunk], they think that’s the reason that person became homeless, which is not true at all,” she said.
“It’s a mindset that we really need to change.”
Unlike a charity, social enterprises such as The Good Box rely on the sale of their goods and services to maintain their ability to provide support.
Ms Blacher and Ms Jones started The Good Box in Sydney, but the organisation’s main headquarters are now located in Brisbane, and the organisation’s box giving service and engagement programs are now available nationwide.
For more information about The Good Box or to purchase a curated box for someone experiencing homelessness, visit http://www.thegoodbox.com.au.