Unsung Heroes: Denise Ladhams ensures no person goes hungry

Headshot of Breanna Redhead
Breanna RedheadSouth Western Times
Denise Ladhams established the Bunbury Soup Van in 2018.
Camera IconDenise Ladhams established the Bunbury Soup Van in 2018. Credit: Breanna Redhead

There’s nothing that hits the spot quite like a warm bowl of soup and some fresh bread on a cold winter’s night, and as the cost of living continues to rise that warm meal is gradually becoming more and more difficult for people to achieve.

Thankfully, for the people of Bunbury, local woman Denise Ladhams is ensuring nobody goes hungry — kickstarting the Bunbury Soup Van, a not-for-profit volunteer-based community project.

Now in it’s fifth year, the BSV was first established after Denise had spent time volunteering for a similar initiative that unfortunately came to a close.

“My sister used to volunteer for the Red Cross soup van and she came over and knocked on the door one night and said, chuck some clothes on, my partner hasn’t turned up and I need someone to go out with me otherwise we can’t go,” she said.

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“I just started helping out, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or what she wanted me to do, but we went out and really loved it, and loved the people.”

The Bunbury Soup Van delivers soup and bread to those in need three times a week.
Camera IconThe Bunbury Soup Van delivers soup and bread to those in need three times a week. Credit: supplied

Admitting she initially had a “naive attitude” to the people who may be using the service, her worries quickly disappeared and she fell in love with the volunteering experience, until one day the service suddenly came to an end.

“The people we met were just gracious and friendly and nice and wanted to chat,” she said.

“Then one day it was closed down and we didn’t really get to say goodbye, because it happened really quickly.”

“I was really sad about not being able to say goodbye to some of the regulars and I lost my way a bit not having that routine anymore and just thought to myself, ‘I’m going to see if I can do this’.”

Soon she created the BSV to continue the good will service she had come to love and the service was fortunate enough to receive $1700 in community funding through the Neighbourhood Soup program to get them on their feet when first starting out.

“It was a little crowdfunding thing, where you could pitch your ideas and I got up and spoke really badly,” she laughed.

“I just got up there and was powering through everything I needed to say ... I totally forgot to breathe.

“So I paused and said ‘maybe I should breath’, and everyone laughed and that broke the ice.”

She said those early days would not have been possible without the help of Rotary which helped with finances until the service could run independently.

Denise Ladhams established the Bunbury Soup Van in 2018.
Camera IconDenise Ladhams established the Bunbury Soup Van in 2018. Credit: Breanna Redhead

Five years on, the not-for-profit works collaboratively with many organisations including St John of God Hospital, Woolworths, Subway, Best in the West Bakery and many others, providing meals to Bunbury families who are doing it tough.

Denise admits she’s grown a soft spot for her regular attendees and described the volunteer service as a “very rewarding” experience to be a part of.

“It’s been a really long journey but it’s been so worth it,” she said.

“Our main ethos is no judgment.

“We don’t ask for any proof that you need to use the service, you can just come up and be served, we can have a chat, share some banter, things like that.”

The service operates two vans and goes on community runs three times a week — Wednesday nights and weekends — one circulating the Bunbury CBD and another reaching outer suburbs including Glen Iris, Carey Park and Withers.

Denise, centre, with the original Bunbury Soup Van committee.
Camera IconDenise, centre, with the original Bunbury Soup Van committee. Credit: supplied

Operated by a team of about 100 volunteers, each looking after one run a month, Denise always looks forward to her shift in the van and spending time with regulars who she has grown close to over a number of years of service.

But as the cost of living continues to rise and more families throughout the community are needing to take advantage of the service, she said it’s a bittersweet feeling.

“The real aim of the Soup Van is to never be needed,” she said.

“We would love to never have to go out, so it’s that real odd scenario where you get all excited thinking ‘wow we had so many people tonight we ran out of soup’ but then reality sets in straight away.

“It does make you sort of sad, but also makes you grateful that you can be out there and helping these people who might not be able to get a meal on the table.”

With the recently observed increase in numbers, the BSV has started offering canned goods for instances where they do run out of hot soup, along with fresh fruit and vegetables thanks to funding from Southern Ports.

Always looking to grow their team, those interested in giving their time to the BSV can get in contact via the Facebook page.

Denise says the team is “proud to be making a difference”.

“I think one of the strongest things about us is our volunteers, they’re really dedicated,” she said.

“It’s always such a nice atmosphere, and even better when you go out and meet people ... it’s really nice.

“A lot of our volunteers are really proud they get to make a difference in the community, helping to give people what they need.”

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