‘I follow my heart’: The Coffs hero who’s changing lives
Julie Ferguson was just ten-years-old when she had an epiphany that would lead her to help change the lives of many Coffs Coast locals.
"Why can't all the rich kids in the world help the poor kids?"
Ms Ferguson did not live a privileged childhood, and went to school hungry everyday.
"I had no food. My mum had left my dad and my dad didn't quite know how to look after us kids.
"It put the idea in my head that I really needed to do something about this, so no one had to go through what I did."
Skip to today and Australia Day nominee Ms Ferguson is helping to feed countless people in need on the Coffs Coast, successfully spearheading food rescue service OzHarvest Coffs Harbour.
The charity's yellow vans are a familiar sight around the city, picking up food from grocery stores and restaurants that would otherwise go to waste and delivering it to those in need.
She volunteers a massive 60 hours a week.
Speaking to The Advocate from the OzHarvest warehouse, the enthusiasm in Ms Ferguson's voice was palpable.
"I just follow my heart. I love doing this, I just love it."
Ms Ferguson, who is one of seven Coffs Harbour locals nominated for an Australia Day Award this year, had been through several different careers before completely dedicating her life to volunteering.
She was working in mental health when she decided that she wanted to provide a food rescue service for the Coffs Coast.
"I saw the homelessness, and I saw that there was a lot of need in Coffs Harbour with all these people who couldn't get food."
After finding out about OzHarvest from a friend Ms Ferguson organised to meet up with founder Ronni Kahn, and the rest is history.
"OzHarvest was only around six-years-old at the time. When I met up with Ronni and drove around in one of the vans I thought yep, this is exactly what I want to do."
In August of 2013, Ms Ferguson launched the service in Coffs and started from nothing, driving around the city in a small car.
She began talking to different people in search of food to rescue and things grew from there.
"I had a dream of how I wanted things to look, and seven years later we're here."
OzHarvest now has three vans, a warehouse and 30 volunteers. It not only provides a food rescue service, but also an educational school program focusing on food and sustainability.
The COVID-19 pandemic however recently forced charities to close down, which meant the team were forced to come up with a solution to continue feeding those in need.
Liaising with the Neighbourhood Centre they opened a pop-up shop where clients have been lining up each day - 1.5m spacing between - to get the food.
The team now take 80 per cent of the food there.
Prior to launching OzHarvest, Ms Ferguson had founded the Orphan's Christmas, bringing the community together to reduce the number of people spending Christmas Day alone.
"I was going through a divorce and I was alone for Christmas Day again. That's what motivated me to start it.
"I remember the first one we held, there was about 16 people. When I retired from it, we had 220."
Ms Ferguson decided to hand over the reins of the Orphan's Christmas three years ago, as OzHarvest Coffs Harbour boomed.
This week The Coffs Coast Advocate is profiling each of Coffs Harbour's Australia Day Award nominees ahead of the awards ceremony on January 26.