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Passionate volunteer pivots to supporting international students

Published:22 May 2020

Abhishek Panchal volunteering with food rescue charity SecondBite

Moving from Ahmedabad, India to Melbourne, Australia when he was just 17, recent CQUni Bachelor of IT graduate Abhishek Panchal knows the overwhelm of arriving in a new city.

The determined international student found friends and an extended family at CQUniversity, and now he’s supporting new arrivals through the COVID-19 crisis, too.

Working as a Technology Coordinator with CQUni Melbourne from 2018, since April he’s been volunteering in the newly established food bank on campus, helping make sure hundreds of students can put food on their tables.

“Helping someone in need is not a responsibility but a privilege and it’s a privilege that not everybody experiences,” Abhishek explained.

“From the start of the crisis I was wanting to help however I could, so as soon as I heard about the food bank, I volunteered,” he said.

“On my lunch break I can unload deliveries and serve food, and I’ve seen how grateful students are to get this service…being able to eat is very important.”

Abhishek said he sees incredible value in volunteering.

“Somebody could be very rich, and while they are not responsible to help someone in need out, they are missing out on that privilege, that feeling of completeness and human connection by helping someone out. Also, somebody could be broke but can still experience that privilege of helping someone in need simply by volunteering.

“One can volunteer their time and efforts, and still experience that privilege of helping someone out.”

CQUniversity Melbourne is home to 3000 students, and the Spencer St campus has been transformed into a hub for practical relief, in partnership with food rescue charity SecondBite. 

The twice-weekly initiative allows students to stock up on frozen meals prepared from fresh by FareShare, delivered to campus along with fresh food by SecondBite.

Students can also collect dry food including rice, daal, flour and spices bulk-purchased by CQUniversity.

Abhishek said he felt privileged to be able to help and understood how tough it was to be away from home, and to have lost income.

“For myself, my parents are back in India, and they’re in their 60s so they are very vulnerable, it is hard to be so far away,” he said.

“Then it’s really overwhelming to see news daily about friends back home, like the migrant workers who are going to walk 200, 300 kilometres because they’ve lost their work, and to have no way to help them.”

The food bank is not Abhishek’s first experience of volunteering - during his three-year degree, he was a passionate student leader, and devoted time to supporting a range of not-for-profits, including SecondBite. 

CQUniversity's partnerships with social enterprise are part of its role as Australia’s only Changemaker University, accredited by global social innovation network Ashoka U.

The CQUni food bank project is the first time SecondBite has provided meals for university students, and nearly 500 students signed up for the food relief in the first fortnight alone.