The St Vincent de Paul Society was founded in Paris in 1833 and was established in Australia in 1854.
The Society, commonly known as ‘Vinnies’, has grown to now encompass more than 45,000 members and volunteers across the country who are dedicated to the aim of providing practical assistance to disadvantaged people.
When most of us think of Vinnies the first things that come to our minds are the clothing collection bins and the retail stores where funds are raised from the sale of pre-loved items, especially clothing.
But Vinnies is much more than that. A key part of the operations in New South Wales is the process of transferring clothing and furniture items from their points of collection which requires an efficient logistics operation involving vehicles operating to and from bases located in a number of regional centres such as Armidale and Wagga Wagga, as well as metropolitan Sydney and Newcastle.
The Society’s NSW State Logistics Manager is Martin Pottage, who is based at the main distribution centre located at Auburn, near Parramatta.
Martin has accrued 23 years’ experience in the transport industry, having spent a decade as transport manager for Aldi Supermarkets where, along with other tasks, he was responsible for purchasing trucks including prime movers and B-doubles.
Today Martin manages a fleet of 70 vehicles across the state including trucks and vans, with Hino trucks as the brand of choice sourced through AdTrans dealerships.
“When I first started with Vinnies about five years ago a lot of the trucks and vehicles we had were quite old, so over the past five years I have sought to build a fit-for-purpose fleet across the state focusing on using Hino vehicles to give me the consistency and reliability we need,” says Martin.
“For a smaller size truck, the Hinos are very effective for what we need to do on inner city runs, and when operating regionally we get good fuel economy. They’re reliable and robust as well.”
Late model Hino trucks feature the Hino SmartSafe comprehensive safety package which includes pre-collision warnings which can autonomously activate the truck’s brakes if an object, vehicle or even pedestrian is at risk of being hit.
Lane departure warnings and vehicle stability control are also part of the SmartSafe suite.
The Hinos are serviced every 20,000 kilometres or six months depending upon what type of work they are doing and the consistent servicing results in ever-dependable reliability while the automatic transmissions reduce driver fatigue and widen the pool of available drivers who may not have experience in operating a manual truck.
A factor in Martin’s move to develop the fit-for-purpose truck fleet has been the move to higher Gross Vehicle Mass vehicles such as the Hino 300 921 models.
The trucks are operated by a mix of professional and volunteer drivers. Finding volunteer drivers, especially regionally, can be a challenge, as fewer people have available time due to the need to provide dual incomes in many households to meet the increasing costs of living.
One of the things Vinnies does for its paid and volunteer staff is provide the opportunity for anyone with a car licence to upgrade to a rigid truck licence.
“When I first started here volunteers were quite abundant, however that has changed,” says Martin.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve recruited drivers with HR, MR and LR licences and an obvious advantage is the training involved in them obtaining that level of licence such as properly securing loads and responsible driving. It’s important also, to be ensuring that our trucks are well looked after and that my team has the best equipment available.”
The Hino trucks are fitted with pantech bodies built by Patra Truck Bodies which have a mesh lining on the inner walls to simplify the proper restraint of items being transported.
They also feature 1,500kg D’Hollandia tailgate lifts which act as the rear seal doors for the body.
The trucks carry a variety of items and in addition to collecting clothing and usable household goods from the donation bins, trucks also collect furniture items from customers wanting to donate them, and then the trucks deliver the donated goods to a Vinnies facility or in some cases direct to a needy recipient.
The trucks are also used for moving textiles from either Vinnies retail shops to another retail shop location or back to the distribution centres where the clothing items are sorted and graded.
Another vitally important function the vehicles are used for is to provide community support, once referred to as welfare.
Short and long-term homelessness is a growing issue throughout the community and Vinnies is known for stepping up and providing the basic needs for people who find themselves in a crisis situation.
Earlier this year Vinnies quoted NSW Street Count data showing a 34 per cent increase in the numbers of people sleeping ‘rough’ over the past year, and Census data shows that more than 35,000 people are without a place to call home in NSW.
Vinnies is known for its community and CEO Sleepouts which are major fundraisers and bring media attention to the hardship faced by people experiencing, and at risk of, homelessness.
The Vinnies CEO Sleepout has raised more than $85 million nationally since it began in 2006.
According to Martin, the trucks in the Sydney metropolitan area are undertaking upwards of 45 community support deliveries each week.
These usually involve the conveyance of essential items such as beds, mattresses, tables and chairs and chests of drawers.
“We guarantee they are delivered within 48-72 hours,” says Martin.
“That way if you’ve got a mum or dad out there with two kids who have lost their home and they are put into emergency accommodation by Vinnies, we’ve got those essential items to them within that time frame, so they are not sleeping on the floor, and they’ve got somewhere to sit for dinner.”
The blue Vinnies trucks perform a very important task in ensuring people in need are not missing out on the ‘basics’.