By Danielle Kutchel
After a tough year, the well-loved Joe Rechichi, tireless stalwart of the Springvale community, has been awarded an OAM as part of this year’s Australia Day Honours for “service to the community through charitable initiatives”.
As the president and face of the Springvale Benevolent Society (SBS), Mr Rechichi has put his heart and soul into the community over the last 20 years.
And after a particularly difficult year, with Covid-associated lockdowns taking their toll on businesses and families, the OAM is a welcome surprise.
But, Mr Rechichi said, he doesn’t do it for the honours.
“I wouldn’t do it if it was a paid job,” he said of his volunteering.
“It’s all from the heart.”
Having migrated to Australia from Italy in 1964 at the age of just 17, Mr Rechichi can empathise with today’s refugees and asylum seekers and the struggles they face in a new country.
“We came as a poor family. I know what it’s like to go without … (where) if you’ve got food today you eat, if not tomorrow, you go without,” he explained.
Mr Rechichi says that as the president of the SBS, he doesn’t want to leave anybody behind, especially not when he goes home to a table laden with dinner.
He’s spent 2020 chasing funds to help put food on the tables of others, and thanks to a combined effort with assistance from partners like Rotary and the Lions Club, SBS was able to do so.
But with the impacts of the pandemic continuing to ripple through society, the work is never over.
Fortunately, Mr Rechichi is passionate about giving to those who need it.
He’s not sure where this drive came from, but he’s happy to serve.
“You do what you can to assist them in any way you possibly can. That’s the achievement,” he said.
It’s not just about providing food parcels, he added; just as important is the ability to listen to people and their concerns, and take away some of their pain. That’s a part of the job that Mr Rechichi really enjoys and feels that he has a gift for.
Besides SBS, Mr Rechichi has been coordinator/facilitator of The Springvale Italian Seniors Club since 1990 and is a member of the Association of Italian Senior Citizen Clubs of Victoria.
These associations have allowed him to reach out to older migrants who might otherwise be struggling or feel forgotten in their new home.
As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman – and Mr Rechichi said he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much as he has in his charity work without the support of his wife Teresa, who has also been involved with SBS and the wider Greater Dandenong community for many years.
“I think put together, as husband and wife, we feel the need to give back to the community a lot and do positive things,” he said.
And he has no plans to stop any time soon.
Mr Rechichi said he still has “plenty to give” and hopes he has the years ahead to continue.
“Volunteering is my livelihood,” he said.
“I’ll be proud to put the OAM with my name.”