St Kilda Mums: Local mums come together to provide families in need with pre-loved baby goods
American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Victoria based organisation St Kilda Mums perfectly exemplifies Mead’s philosophy. Founded in 2009 the organisation, headed by CEO Jessica Macpherson, takes in pre-loved baby goods - prams and children’s furniture, among others - cleans, repairs and rehomes them to low-income families across the state.
The operations of St Kilda Mums first commenced from the balconies of Jessica and her friends, but soon through word-of-mouth publicity and the generosity of local mums who happily donated their pre-loved baby goods, the organisation grew immensely in the last ten years. Today, it operates out of a massive warehouse in Clayton, Victoria, and is mostly volunteer-driven.
TAL Caught up with Jessica - who was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) this year for her contributions to her community and the social sector – to talk about the factors leading to the inception of St Kilda Mums, the challenges the organisation faced and its plans for the future.
Before we begin, please tell us something about yourself.
I am 48 years old and was born and raised on a farm in New Zealand. I worked in the wine trade for years and launched Oyster Bay in Australia in 2002. I like to crochet, ride bikes and play cards with my little ones.
What prompted you to start St Kilda Mums? What's the story behind it?
In 2009, I had my second child and was attending Mother's Group at the St Kilda Maternal and Child Health Centre on Chapel Street. We chanced upon various donated baby-related materials like clothing and toys, among others in the photocopying room. On talking to the nurses there, we discovered that these items had been given by well-meaning parents to pass on. However, lack of resources was making it difficult for the nurses to get the goods sorted quickly. That’s when my friends and I decided to chip in.
The presentation of these goods was a crucial factor in our minds. We were adamant to rehome only those items that we would be comfortable receiving ourselves. We ensured all goods were thoroughly cleaned and were safe to use.
This simple act ignited a set of activities that galvanised the creation of St Kilda Mums. Soon, the word about our work spread and my friend Peta and I started receiving donations from lovely, generous local mums. They loved the idea of creating a community around pre-loved baby goods.
With the increase in donations, the need for a bigger space than our balconies was felt. In 2010, a generous local family donated their double garage for us to store our pre-loved goods.
We just wanted to make sure our much-loved baby gear went to someone who needed it. That was ten years ago - a simple idea that caught on! Today, there are 16 similar organisations across Australia.
How do you ensure that goods going out for donations are in a good and safe condition? How do you discard the ones that don’t get donated?
We have a mobile application, Baby Safe, that guides our volunteers with assessment for all the big items with safety standards. Through the app, we ensure that donated prams and other goods are safe to be rehomed. A social worker could use the app when visiting a family in their home to check the safety of all nursery furniture and products in use; this proves especially valuable in remote and regional areas where more second-hand nursery products are in circulation.
Similarly, new parents could use the app to check if the gifts they receive for their new baby are safe. We also have training and guidelines for everything else.
We try to repair things, e.g. pram wheels or ripped material - however, this is not always possible. So, we request donors to email us a photo and a detailed description of their goods if there is a fault, and based on that, decide whether the product can be rehomed or not. We ask our donors not to give anything that is broken, damaged, torn, ripped, stained or faulty.
We have collaborated with a recycling partner to safely dispose of the items we don’t rehome.
How are the families that receive the pre-loved goods chosen?
Any family that has a social worker, Maternity and Child Health services nurse or midwife supporting them is eligible to receive our pre-loved baby goods.
What goods do you deliver, and over the years, how has that list changed?
We stock 66 items - the list has not changed in 10 years. The things that we stock include, bottles and feeding equipment, breastfeeding pillows, baby gyms, food (three months before expiry), towels and mats, art and craft materials, blankets for basinet and cots, books, change tables that fold, and chair and tables for kids, among others. The complete list of the products that we accept is on our website.
What challenges have you faced since the inception of the organisation and how did you overcome them?
Lack of space! Initially, we started storing donated goods in our verandah, but soon moved into a garage given by a lovely local couple. In 2013, the need for a bigger space was felt, and we raised funds to move into a new headquarters in Vale Street, St Kilda. Our community of generous mothers are ever-growing, and recently, we again felt the need for a larger place. In March, this year, we raised $250,000, which helped us shift our operations to our new headquarters in Clayton, which has three times the storage place.
Our mathematics is simple – three times the space, three times the impact! We know we are already reaching 1/3 of all kids born into poverty in Victoria, and with this new headquarters, we will reach them all!
What led to the formation of the sister organisations - Geelong and Eureka Mums? Will there be more in the future? How does one go about becoming a sister organisation of St Kilda Mums?
Geelong and Eureka branches were formed by like-minded volunteers who were as keen as we were to do something helpful for their local communities. We have no expansion plans now - we just want to help others get established. We believe in locals helping locals. You must share our values and vision, and agree to meet our safety standards to become a sister organisation.
How many members are there in this organisation?
We have one part-time staff member for every 100 volunteers.
We were entirely volunteer-run for the first 4.5 years. We would not exist without them, and our board is made up of exceptionally skilled volunteers. Volunteers are at the heart of all we do.
What are your plans for the future?
We are very proud of what we have achieved in the last ten years, but we know there’s more that needs to be done. This year we aim to help 20,000 babies and children, 1/4 of whom will be less than 12 months old.
To volunteer or donate, log onto St Kilda Mums’ website.
Follow them on Instagram to get updates about their programmes.