The Big Umbrella

Written by LN Team / August 17, 2018

At Live Nation we love to help out our local community where we can, so when we heard that Pink's crew volunteered for The Big Umbrella on their night off, we decided to follow suit.

The Big Umbrella Foundation is a charity which since 2010 has been receiving rescued and surplus food from corporate events, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and local Melbourne food and drink companies. With the help of volunteers and corporate/community group participants they redistribute it as 400 hot and healthy meals each week, shared on the streets with the homeless and marginalised in Melbourne. Incredibly, they have shared over 100,000 meals and rescued 218 tonnes of food in the last 8 years.

The Big Umbrella also run one of the most successful rehabilitation/anti trafficking centres for street children in Asia, have supported/aided the rescue of many under age children from the sex trade and forced labour, rebuilt schools, homes for the disadvantaged in remote areas, created their own social enterprise café and are now working on a burger shop and food truck for charity. They have been awarded a Australian VCAL achievement award for a social justice schools program in Australia, and worked with over 22,000 committed and compassionate volunteers. It's not hard to see why their Founder and CEO was a finalist for the Australian of the year awards in 2015.

Our Melbourne office went down to The Big Umbrella HQ to learn about what they do and help out of the evening. While we were there we got the back story behind The Big Umbrella from founder and volunteer CEO, Justin Dickinson...

LN: What made you start The Big Umbrella?

JD: I strongly believe the secret to living, is giving... It may sound cheesy and cliché but its true… Its all to easy to get stuck in our heads and wrapped up in all our problems concerns and worries from our day to day lives in this crazy world, I find that once we start giving to others, we start thinking of our selves less and we stop worrying about the little things so much. Giving to others creates selflessness and a sense of freedom from our own lives and its worries. I believe, this is also the reason we are so successful and have so many awesome volunteers each week, people just want to help.

LN: Tell us about the path from lighting concerts to where you are now. 

JD: I worked as a lighting guy in the entertainment industry for 20 plus years, and loved my job… but wasn't fulfilled in life, something was missing. I travelled the world and  ended up in Kathmandu, Nepal, where I met a group of children living in the streets that would change my life forever. No one seemed to be caring for or supporting these children (aged 5-15). They were just left there to die. After much thought and research I decided to do something about it. I returned home, moved back in with my parents at the age of 35 (as much fun as that was) and started working full time on and creating The Big Umbrella Foundation. I supported myself by working as a production assistant, doing film work and lighting gigs. 8 years later, TBU is proudly a self funding organisation, 100% run by volunteers working all over the world helping and supporting hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life.

LN: Tell us about your amazing team – their backgrounds and how they make a living

JD: Our volunteers are the heart beat of our organisation, the back bone of all that we do. We have zero paid staff in Australia, and the only staff we have are the incredible local people who run our children's home in Kathmandu, or build our schools etc in the remote communities. Our selfless volunteers are a wide range of people aged from 16 - 99 that just want to give back. Everyone has a day job but still finds time to come in each and every week. Our Team leaders start each night at 4pm to catch up on admin or start getting the food ready for the soup kitchen that night, incredibly they work until late until everything is cleaned and our tubs are packed and ready for the next night.

LN: Any highlights from the stories of people you have helped, or who have helped The Big Umbrella?

JD: We have this awesome program that gets people back into the work force while or after experiencing homelessness. I’ll never forget Rob (the guy in all our videos on our website) he was the first person we helped find work and remarkably, a path out of homelessness. It was so simple, with the support of the team from Gig Power (a local Melbourne crewing company) we trained Rob up as a roadie and before you knew it, Rob was working on some of the biggest shows in the world that came to Melbourne each week. Just months before Rob was living in a park for over 6 years selling magazines to get by, unable to find employment due to his current living conditions. All Rob needed was a second chance and the support to give it a go.

8 years later we have had many of our friends from the street, enter the workforce again and find a path out of homelessness though the "roadie training" program in the entertainment industry.

Personally, I loved that the industry I worked in was now supporting what we do in the charity world.

LN: Is there anything you need? How can people help?

JD: We always need more dedicated and passionate volunteers to help us out with admin or on the streets serving food, we are always looking for corporate teams to come down and join us on their team building nights, corporate sponsorship and support is a big one for us as it funds our whole organisation, we receive no government funding or grants from the community. We also need donated goods, like books, blankets, drinks, water especially, condiments, tables, chairs and gas for BBQs.

For more info on how you can get involved with The Big Umbrella hit the big red button below!

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