On October 10 founder of Diva Charity Incorporated, Christina Iskandar was a finalist for the Westfield Local Hero Award, and while she would have loved to have won the 20K for a much-needed van, the Greek Australian was still grateful for the 5K – which will kickstart that goal.
Based in NSW, Diva Charity run a clothing and food drive on the first Saturday of every month in south Maroubra, a suburb with a vast area of social housing and low-income earners.
Christina says they got started post COVID, after finding a lot of people were coming out of a very dire time.
“We started by just cooking up meals ourselves, and I’ve got a group of women and we have a WhatsApp group and we message each other what we are going to be doing for the drive,” she told Neos Kosmos.
“We just help where we can and we’re all mums, wives, grandmas, aunties, we’re a whole broad spectrum of women that are passionate about giving back.”
The reason they need a van according to Christina is because there aren’t always enough cars available and having to pile them up, and with her having to go to three different Woolworths (who generously provide rescued food for her drives) the back of her husband’s station wagon isn’t always enough.
Diva Charity also provide clothing at their drives, collaborating with other groups like Thread Together and Homeless Not Nameless to supply both brand new top of the line clothing (that would have been landfill) and second-hand donations.
These clothing and food drives have become a communal event, with many locals dropping off home cooked meals.
Christina, who balances work with her charity, says they help a lot of older groups of residents and a lot of immigrants, sharing a beautiful story with Neos Kosmos.
“We’ve got a beautiful 96-year-old that’s from the Ukraine that has little or no help.”
“She’s got an English-speaking carer, but she comes down and she’s all hugs and it’s so good to see her and she loves seeing us.”
She says that carer has told them the woman asks everyday when the next drive is.
“With the language barrier, I just give her an old big Greek hug and that makes her happy. That’s what we do. We conversate as well. It’s not only about the food, it’s about communication and conversation with the local people that are struggling.”
Meanwhile, the local barber, a Turkish man named Sam, provides free haircuts to those in need.
But when it comes to Greeks in need, its always a bigger connection for Christina, who says you almost feel like their family.
She says there was one woman that led to quite an emotional scene.
“She reminded me of my mum and she was Greek, so I started bawling my eyes out because mum passed away.”
“I was a bit taken back and I remember all the other girls were telling me ‘It’s ok’ and I was like, ‘oh, my God, she just reminds me of mum'”
“She was so amazing and so grateful, and she just wanted to see me and talk to me. And it was great to be able to speak to her in Greek.”
The work never stops for Christina, who began charity work in 2009, and prior to Diva Charity, she was a volunteer helping the homeless, in her spare time after work from 5.45pm to 9.45pm.
Neos Kosmos previously spoke to her almost a decade ago, about her work helping children in Bali, Indonesia.
If you thought the food and clothing drives were plenty enough, Christina and Diva Charity are also holding a toy drive in collaboration with another Greek Aussie led organisation Caring Kids, founded by Margaret Skagias.
People are encouraged to donate toward buying toys for children who are unlikely to get anything this Christmas due to having low income, disabled, ill parents or family members.
There are also blanket drives in the winter where they hand out over 1000 blankets to people in the street, women’s shelters and other charities.
When asked about what made her want to help those in need, she says it was seeing her uncle Jim Mitsos do the same, a well-known Greek Aussie philanthropist who donated $500,000 to the Disabled Children of Cuba Foundation, which built a hospital in Havana.
At the end of the day Christina wants to be a proud representation of the Greek community, and would love to do more – be it schools, low-income families, wherever needed.
“It’s nice to connect with the Greek community and having them behind Diva Charity would be the most incredible thing and I’d like to do more within the community. So, I’m going to look at that now as to what I can do in the future.”