Small businesses performing big acts of kindness

Patricia Cridge from Sprout Bakery has been providing free soup to people needing food and companionship every week for the last two years..
Patricia Cridge from Sprout Bakery has been providing free soup to people needing food and companionship every week for the last two years.

The pandemic brought disease, medical masks, fear and uncertainty into our small regional towns. It brought out the best and the worst in people and and for many it completely isolated them from the world. The ongoing impacts on people’s physical and mental health are still being felt across our region and the around world. With rising costs of living and a lack of affordable housing compounding peoples’s daily struggles, it’s more important than ever to treat each other with kindness and respect.
A number of individuals and small businesses in Castlemaine have been working quietly and diligently behind the scenes to provide those in need with a little extra support and relief from their hardships.
Patricia Cridge from Sprout Bakery told the Mail that as an essential business that remained open during COVID-19 the staff were seeing a lot of people who were really needing a place to come and talk.
“Then there was one of those sudden lockdowns and we were left with a lot of bread that businesses could no longer use. We offered it to the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Salvation Army and were told that on any given night there will be 17 people sleeping rough in Castlemaine. That’s how the weekly soup nights started,” said Patricia.
Since that time, Patricia and her staff have served over 5000 bowls of free soup, providing people with nourishment, a community and a listening ear.
“It’s not always people who can’t afford food, but people who are socially isolated, particularly single women and older men,” Patricia noted.
“We’re not trained, but just check in with people.
“With mortgages rising and a lack of affordable housing, we’re seeing a lot of families coming in now too,” Patricia commented.
Sprout has received a lot of community support since they began their free soup Mondays two years earlier, with donations of leftovers from Harvest Fruit and Veg, community members dropping off surplus fruit and vegetables, donations from Harcourt CWA and help from a range of volunteers.
Local artist and published author Trace Balla, who was living alone and feeling isolated during the pandemic, started coming to the soup nights and found great comfort in the company.
“It was nice to have a little family to eat with and to get to know people of all ages, a lot of whom are in similar situations,” said Trace.
Trace decided to write a song about the soup nights, using comments from the participants to inspire her lyrics. With the aid of a musician friend she put the words to a song. They then secretly practiced before performing to those gathered at Sprout for their weekly soup.
“The chorus was, ‘soup tastes sweeter when you eat it with others, sharing soup with your sisters and brothers,” Trace told the Mail.
“And soon everyone was singing along.”
Sprout are not the only business in Castlemaine quietly working behind the scenes to provide dignity to those in our community that are doing it tough.
Livio Lizzul and Carolyn Spencer, owners of Castlemaine Fitness, have been providing free showers to those in need for the past eight years.

Livio Lizzul from Castlemaine Fitness has been providing free showers for people in need for the past eight years.

“Sometimes its for people who are homeless or others who are struggling,” said Livio
“I’ve been there and done that and what goes around comes around.”
Laura Keogh, owner of Sac’O’Suds Launderette, has also partnered with Orange Sky, a volunteer organisation that helps connect people with regular laundry and shower services. People who are doing it tough, or need some positive connection can chat with the volunteers and access free washing at the local launderette.
“If you are doing it tough, or are just looking for some connection, then bring along your washing, or just yourself to one of our shifts,” Laura said.
“Volunteering with Orange Sky is super easy! You don’t need to be a pro at washing clothes, you just need to love a good yarn, be positive and non-judgement, and a great team player. I am happy to show our volunteers the ropes,” she said.
Sac’O’Suds Launderette located at 231 Barker Street provides free laundry services to those in financial hardship every Thursday from 1 pm to 3 pm.
Sprout Bakery located at the Mill 1/9 Walker Street provide free soup to those in financial hardship every Monday 4.30 pm 6 pm.
Castlemaine Fitness Centre 23A Lyttleton Street. Free shower passes can be accessed at St Vincent’s De Pauls 244 Barker Street.
For more information or to volunteer at Orange Sky visit:

Jade Jungwirth
Jade is the former Editor of the Tarrangower Times and has lived in the region for over 16 years.