Christmas with a grateful lens: SecondBite founder Simone Carson

Simone Carson and husband Ian co-founded SecondBite in 2005. With a group of friends, they would visit market stalls, collect surplus food and drop it to a local charity. A partnership with Coles six years later led to a rapid expansion. Today more than 780 Coles supermarkets and distribution centres donate to SecondBite which in turn supports over 1000 community food programs across Australia – and this Christmas will be needed more than ever.

 

Simone Carso holding fresh vegetables

Q: How does it feel to make such a difference to people in need?

All Australians have had a tough year. No one has escaped the uncertainty of COVID-19. It has impacted on our economic, mental and physical health. As a Victorian, I feel many of us have had our lives stripped back to the core. For me that has made my tentative but excited steps forward far easier. Our Christmas will have a sustainable, simpler and more grateful lens. There is much to celebrate but we cannot forget how fearful, worried and anxious many Australians will be. Many will be putting on a happy face for their family and friends but will be deeply worried about 2021 and beyond.

We feel very lucky to have family and friends to share a meal with, a stocked pantry, refrigerator and a safe house in which to gather the family together.

Ian and I would feel extremely uncomfortable on December 25 if we hadn’t made the small efforts required to help collect food and make sure it’s distributed and available at one of the agencies for Christmas lunch. This we do every Christmas Eve and have done since SecondBite started.

Q: What does the “spirit of Christmas” mean to you?

Christmas is being surrounded by those you love. It’s an opportunity to make an effort for each other. We live busy lives and it’s a chance to pause and be there for those we care about. It’s not how and where you celebrate but the people you share the day with that makes it memorable.

Q: Tell us about a memorable Christmas.

As a child I remember sitting around the lunch table with my immediate family and hearing the news of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin. The adults were trying not to worry us but my uncle, his wife, newborn baby and toddler were there, and we had no news from them until December 27.

There are two memorable Christmas Eve collections of rescued food. One involved a collection from the Prahran Market with the help of another family. The van was filled to the roof with fresh food of the highest quality. Two families worked for hours collecting, sorting and stacking the food into the refrigerated SecondBite van in heavy rain and hail, and there were pop-up meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for those sleeping rough.

Two years ago we filled the van with food to be delivered to the Salvation Army. It was over 40C! The Salvation Army Project Melbourne 614 offers a safe, dry and warm place for someone to drop in, day or night. A hot meal, refreshment and support are provided. Each Christmas Day they support hundreds of Victorians who may have nowhere to go.

Q: What’s on the table for your family?

Lunch is far more about delegating and sharing the preparation. Everyone who joins us brings a plate and something to drink. Two or three days before Christmas I buy a piece of raw salmon and prepare a gin beetroot cured salmon. It is actually very easy and looks pretty. Then we have some ham for Ian and my son and everyone else brings salads or dessert. Each year my three children contribute by making either nori rolls, rice paper rolls or a gingerbread house.

One tradition carried on from both Ian’s mother and my grandmother is a pavlova. We always decorate mixed berries but have a few alternatives for those looking for chocolate or passionfruit - why not? It’s Christmas!

Q: What does Christmas Day look like?

The Christmas celebration really starts on Christmas Eve when we collect food from Melbourne’s Prahran Market. The SecondBite refrigerated van arrives at about 3pm and meets Ian, myself, and any children who are not working. Each Christmas we have other families with their children help us. After the collection and delivery, we usually go to a family church service and sometimes Carols by Candlelight. If we don’t go the family have a light meal and watch Love Actually together. Sometimes if we are lucky enough, we share Christmas Eve with any friends who may not have anywhere to go .

We always have my mother for lunch on Christmas Day but the venue for the meal is shared among the family. The children will pick up their grandmother collecting coffee on the way, a very Melbourne tradition that there is always a coffee shop open!

Christmas is a great day for celebrating the wonderful fresh summer produce of Australia. We try and shop local, buy Australian and are always curious where our food has come from.

After a late lunch and dessert people may play Scrabble, listen to music or go for a walk. As a family we usually watch It’s a Wonderful Life, a fabulous 1946, very-Christmas movie.