Outstanding volunteer recognised

Joe Rechichi was awarded a Living Treasure at the beginning of 2022. Picture: JONTY RALPHSMITH. 276970.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

It was fitting that 2022 would be the year Joe Rechichi was awarded a Living Treasure for his work at the Springvale Benevolent Society.

Mayor Jim Memeti presented him with the award earlier in the year at Dandenong Town Hall which comes after he won an Order of Australia Medal in 2021.

Mr Rechichi’s formal recognition for making a lasting impact to the City of Greater Dandenong came after a 2021 that he describes as his busiest.

There were asylum seekers, schoolchildren, people who had lost their job. That is before you include the usual 60-70 clients per month that the society typically assists with non-perishables and food vouchers to provide residents with bare essentials.

The council provided a loan to the society to ensure that asylum seekers could seek assistance – that meant another 50 parcels per week.

Then there was the school runs. He fielded phone calls from schools in the region asking him to deliver boxes of food and even schoolwork, and of course Joe said yes. That was another 20 deliveries to families most in need.

“You don’t know how much the schools appreciate it – I would deliver the boxes of food once a week,” Joe said.

“A lot of those kids were at home so the teachers organised a backpack of schoolwork. The children appreciate it, particularly when you turn up there with a little parcel.”

Having volunteers absent throughout 2021 due to hospitalisation, age and other Covid-19 related reasons added another layer of difficulty – Joe said he was the only volunteer consistently in the office.

So many people were requiring assistance that the passionate volunteer who has been president for more than 20 years and contributed for many more needed a break.

Never had the society previously closed such has been his, and other volunteers’, commitment – but Mr Rechichi needed to recharge his batteries.

“Covid tested in the sense to see how far we can stretch the elastic band before it broke,” Joe said.

“I could not function anymore – I needed a rest.”

Wife, Theresa, is also part of the society and won a Living Treasure in 2021.

She highlights that if volunteering is in your nature, expecting praise for your efforts generally is not: “You don’t do voluntary work unless you’re prepared to commit yourself,” she said.

Joe echoes his wife’s sentiment. He is driven by a care to improve the lives of others.

“It’s an achievement and it’s a great acknowledgements but I have not worked all these years for that.

“You do accept nominations but it’s never about me, it’s about the community out there. You always appreciate your recognition, but you don’t do the work because of that.”