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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Maria’s journey from chef to charity boss

Ann-Maria Martin dreams of living in a region where everyone feels warm and safe, is clothed and fed, and has a roof over their heads.

For the past three-and-a-half years, the single mother has fought hard to make this dream a reality for hundreds of Hunter residents.

‘Maria’, as she prefers to be known, is the founder of Survivors R Us, a Cardiff-based charity offering support to people fleeing domestic violence, unemployment and homelessness, in fact her not-for-profit charity prides itself on being available to anyone in need.

Through an array of generous sponsors, including OzHarvest, Baker’s Delight, Rotary, Meals on Wheels, Harris Farm and Food Bank, her charity assists up to 60 families a day.

“We help men, women and children by getting them into refuges to keep them safe, we also supply food hampers, clothing, dignity bags and toys for families who have nothing, or have lost everything,” Maria said.

“We do not discriminate on race, gender, or sexual orientation.”

Within a 1,000 square metre premises on Ranton Street, Maria and her team of volunteers offer free cooked breakfasts, a food warehouse, on-site counselling, a weekly men’s group, sewing groups, an op-shop, workwear supplies, access to washing machines and showers, as well as free bread and fresh produce.

“We are not a card system either,” Maria said.

“You don’t have to show us a health-care card or any papers, you just come and grab what you need.”

Maria’s passion for the cause stems from her own traumatic experiences.

In 2010, she fled an abusive partner with her young daughter, fearing he would harm them, or worse.

“When I fled from domestic violence with my little girl, I didn’t know where to get help from,” she said.

“I knew there was help out there but I’d never been in that situation before.”

Four months later, she was held at gunpoint in her workplace.

In the five years that followed, she lost her beloved stepfather to cancer and received a cancer diagnosis of her own.

The former chef and restaurant owner said she was “completely broken”.

“It all became too much for me,” she said. “I just couldn’t cope.”

Maria was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and took some much-needed time off for what she calls “healing”.

It was during this time she founded Survivors R Us, adapting a logo of a giant phoenix, a mythical bird that lived for centuries and, even after death, was renewed to youth to live through another life cycle.

“That’s me taking my life back,” Maria said. “Rising from the ashes.

“And it’s what I want everyone to know – that you can get your life back together after a traumatic experience.”

COVID-19 has also presented a new set of challenges for Maria and her team.

“I know people are really struggling at the moment,” she said. “We’ve not seen it like this before.

“We’ve got people sleeping in their cars and my team of 81 has been cut back to just seven – we’re all doing it tough.

“But please come in; I’ve got blankets, you can have a hot shower, and I’ve got plenty of clothes for the kids.

“We don’t want anyone to go without.”

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