Vinnies in Alice barely surviving


p2423 Vinnies 1 OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA

St Vincent de Paul, after being a Godsend to many poor people in Alice Springs,  assisting them with a string of initiatives and run by just three staff and 120 volunteers, with a dedicated conference, is now but a shadow of its former self.


The self-sufficient and financially stable organisation declined from June last year when after the resignation  of centre manager Melissa Durston, personnel from Queensland, on FIFO assignments, took over, says her successor Ruth Fox.


While the shop survives with a skeleton staff, the emergency assistance office and food van are shut down and clothes donations, without even removing them from their bags, are being taken to the dump.


Previously surplus was taken to the Salvos, sent to Vinnies in Tennant Creek or given to other local op shops.


p2423 Vinnies 2 OKMrs Fox, who was engaged late last year, recently was given just minutes of notice to leave the premises, five days short of the end of her probation period.


She says the number of volunteers was down to six or seven when she took over, and after her sacking only four remain.


There was no hand-over of the operation which was well-organised less than a year ago.


Ms Durston says in Alice Springs there is a level of need for Vinnies that is 15 times greater than the national average, because of the large percentage of impoverished people.


Ms Durston is well-known in the business community for organising the CEO Sleep-outs.


“I am very disappointed that the organisation has deteriorated so quickly under Queensland management,” she says.


Vinnies Queensland and NT spokesman Hayden Calderwood, when asked to comment, said: “Thank you for the opportunity to respond [but] I’m sure you can understand due to the sensitivity of the matter and to respect the privacy of all individuals involved, we can’t delve into the particulars around volunteer or staff changes.”


 UPDATE Friday 10am
The St Vincent de Paul Society NT spokesperson provided the following statement:-

Vinnies Alice Springs values the contributions of our wonderful volunteer team, who have been helping us for over 50 years to provide affordable clothing and food through the Vinnies shop and much needed support in the local community to give people a hand up.
We are aware of the departure of one volunteer in the past month. We appreciate their efforts and hope they consider volunteering with us in the future.
We acknowledge that over the past year there have been some changes to our volunteer team, however like any voluntary organisation we must seek out new volunteers to keep our operations going.
Community initiatives run by the Alice Springs Conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society, such as the food van which is not currently operational, are dependent upon adequate member involvement and funding to ensure their operation. Activities in the local community have not been affected by staff changes at the Vinnies shop.
Volunteering with Vinnies is a great way of meeting new people and making a real difference in the local community. We encourage anyone wanting to find out more to drop in to the shop or go to the Vinnies website.
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council appointed its Queensland CEO Peter Maher OAM as the Group CEO of The Society in Queensland and the Northern Territory effective 1 July 2016.
Since then, the focus has been on making sure services continue and that Vinnies in the NT is sustainable so that we can keep supporting people in need.
Our focus has been on the safety and security of our staff, members and volunteers, and ensuring the Society is transparent in its operations and has adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure good governance and financial accountability.
The Society will continue to operate at a local level to ensure our support is flexible and responsive to the needs of the community.


  1. Another NGO where bullying of staff is rampant.
    Alice is full of them and this is a huge problem for employees and volunteers in Alice Springs.
    Let it be clear that Melissa Durston was bullied away. I saw this happen and was one of the 40+ volunteers who protested and then walked off.
    The whole situation could have easily been avoided. A tragedy caused by incompetence in management that affects the poor in our community.

  2. Queensland needs to learn that what works in Queensland does not work in Alice Springs!
    I have volunteered at Vinnies for the past 15 years. During this time I have seen some exceptional managers and some extremely average ones.
    Melissa and Ruth were in the exceptional category. They gave it their all and put so many hours of their own time to make sure Vinnies was successful.
    When Melissa was employed food van, emergency relief, community work and the shop were all doing amazingly. She asked for one day off a week to study (which would help her role as manager). This was denied as they wanted full time. Melissa would have still been doing over her hours.
    It was a bit of a no brainier win win situation for Vinnies. The Alice Springs Conference backed her.
    Queensland decided to release her! 40+ volunteers and two staff walked out in disgust at the way she was treated.
    They flew in two fly-ins from Queensland over a period of four months. They were to turn the shop into a carbon copy of Queensland ones!
    Both managers, after they realised no one will pay $140 for a beat up 1960s bag in Alice, went back and told them Queensland ways won’t work here! One of them wrote a four page letter in regards to this.
    Queensland would not listen.
    Vinnies conference always had the managers backs and were great!
    They too were sacked as Queensland did not like what they had to say either!
    Ruth came in to pick up the pieces alone! She did amazingly and the shop was looking good. You would see her in at 7am doing the books just trying to keep on top of things.
    Queensland would not give her any staff! Melissa had two! They set her up for failure in their money grabbing attempt!
    She worked so hard with skeleton volunteers as Queensland were still dictating their un-Christian like behavior.
    Now they have done this! Appalling behaviour!
    Alice Springs needs to take it back from Darwin and Queensland and run itself!
    Darwin and Queensland have destroyed Vinnies for Alice Springs. It is very needed here and will now put stress on other agencies in town.
    This is very sad for all of Alice Springs and the people who worked so hard to make Vinnies what it was!
    Very un-Christian like Vinnies Queensland and Darwin!

  3. This explains a lot. My daughter started work there as a 12 year old volunteer and loved it.
    Sorting stock, serving customers and even after a while helping train others.
    All of a sudden she wanted to stop going and this was shortly after the new managers took over.
    Rude attitude to a young volunteer, lack of communication, and rudeness when it was done were the main complaints.
    Such a shame as getting volunteers these days is difficult, what is not difficult is treating them with respect so they want to stay.
    This article backs up 100% what she was saying.

  4. I managed the Red Cross shop in reg Harris lane.
    The area manager would turn up, bully the volunteers and attempt to bully me. Which did not go well for her.
    She demanded I make sure the volunteers signed contracts for work times. I told her that the volunteers would do what the could. They loved working for the Red Cross.
    I put a complaint in to head office re the area manager and she went on stress leave after all the other stores were contacted and all relayed the same story of bullying and threats by this persons.
    This same person was abused by customers for her rudeness to them.
    After I quit the new manager was promised full time and after 12 months still no permanent position.
    Was forced to work 40 hours plus and paid for 30 hours part time rate.
    It appears that these not for profit organisations are fronts for people who have achieved middle management positions who have no compassion or empathy.
    And have no issue pushing bullying.

  5. Readers’ comments on our Facebook site:
    Bec Imhof: Might have something to do with their ridiculous pricing. Why would I pay $6 or $7 for a donated kids T-shirt when I can get a new one for $3 at Kmart. Their jeans are $10 + and I can get new ones for the same price, sometimes less. Set the pricing lower!
    Blake Dennis: Such a pity as this town would have a full op-shop culture if the pricing was done right. I also have tried to donate several times and the bins are locked!
    Amity Leisha Thompson: Yep sadly I agree, they are way too expensive now for a second hand store.

  6. I love to support our local op shops through shopping there and donating goods for sale.
    Vinnies has been on a sharp decline for a while now.
    Ridiculous pricing means goods stay on the shelves.
    The other day I spotted candles that sell for $1 new at Kmart priced at $5.
    I haven’t bought anything on my last six visits to the store.
    Melissa and Ruth were great managers, very friendly and dedicated.
    Now I know more on why Ruth left I will not be visiting this store again.
    Such a pity a well needed service is being run so badly and into the ground.
    Shame on you Vinnies … hardly living up to the ethos of St Vincent De Paul whose name you use.

  7. Just read the update. Says a lot about the future of this store, as they simply provide a blanket statement and do not address any of the concerns.
    Maybe a statement saying they are surprised by the claims and apologize to the volunteers would help?
    Only one has left in the past month? How about how many left before that?
    Nothing to address the pricing disparity.
    Maybe an individualized response, not some generic, excuse making, cover all response may have shown some hope for this organization.
    I think Janet may be right, judging by all the “power phrases” loved by middle management.
    How could they try and encourage new volunteers without investigating the current claims?
    I think St. Vincent would be shaking his head

  8. I haven’t read any of the comments yet, but the update from the Vinnies spokesperson smells a fair bit like an oft used template that they’ve been sending out after using the “find and replace” command in MS Word.

  9. I believe that political correctness has played a subtle but significant role in this very sad state of affairs.
    The charity was commenced in a spirit of genuine love and concern for the downtrodden in life by the ordinary punters in the Catholic Church in the true tradition of the life of St Vincent de Paul.
    Therein lies the crux of today’s political incorrectness.
    The Catholic Church as a Christian religious institution is anathaema to today’s “progressive” Left elites, and St Vincent is a Catholic saint.
    The first sign that the charity was bowing to PC demands was the change of name to “Vinnies”. Many people viewed this as a sellout of core Christian principles, as though Church authorities were ashamed to hold St Vincent up as a shining example of love for fellow humans.
    When that cultural cringe thinking takes hold, all the human weakness factors of overpricing, greed and insensitive management have a field day.
    It’s time for Cathilics as Christians to go back to basics and reclaim the charity for St Vincent.
    Betcha all those wonderful goodhearted volunteers such as Rossy Freddo and Terry and the Girls would come flooding back.

  10. I to was a volunteer working alongside Ruth.
    I found her exceptionally passionate about her job and spent countless overtime there at her choice to try and keep on top with every job thrown at her. She never once complained or gave up.
    I was there when Ruth came out of the office and whispered in a distressed voice that she has been immediately dismissed.
    My response was shock and horror and replied that I won’t be returning.
    That explained why Ruth wasn’t getting any emails as those in Brisbane had planned for Ruths dismissal.
    Shame on you Vinnies. I won’t be shopping their anymore.

  11. In regards to the statement from “Vinnies” – they did nothing to answer questions and complaints with their generic statement!
    It was an acknowledgement so they didn’t look like they are ignoring this article. But all it did was made them look stupid and show they do not care about Alice Springs!
    Queensland and the bullying is the only reason there is no food van, ER and they are struggling!
    Some volunteers were even bullied and treated like they were clueless when they wrote and rang Queensland management with their concerns.
    “We are from Alice Springs” what would we know about anything?!
    I feel so sorry for all the wonderful past staff, conference and volunteers of Vinnies both past and present who have fought and worked so hard and tirelessly to uphold the values of St Vincent de Paul … only to have them torn down in such an un-Christian like manner!
    The only people who sadly suffer in all this are the people of Alice Springs!

  12. Very sad development about Vinnies in Alice! Hoping the locals can keep it going with NT local help and local prices for the whole community.

  13. @ KM: It’s abit late when it was Queensland that dismissed me and gave me a few minutes to leave the building, not my NT E/officer who stayed silent before and after. It’s long gone out of NT control, I feel.


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