The Big Umbrella (TBU) is a charity organisation that has been creating and serving restaurant quality food to Melbourne people experiencing food insecurity and homelessness since 2010. All food and produce used is rescued and would otherwise end up in landfill. It is crafted into delicious meals that are then served by a team of dedicated volunteers. TBU operates as a safe and inclusive space forging a sense of belonging and creating community. They can be found at Federation Square every Wednesday and Thursday night. IFAS Group has been providing support by providing a security presence to bolster the safe-being aspect of the program for the last two years.

  1. Can you share the backstory of how The Big Umbrella originated and its mission to provide for the homeless in Melbourne?

Justin Dickinson, TBU’s CEO and founder, started his extraordinary journey into humanitarian work in Nepal, helping to stop child trafficking there. When he returned to Melbourne, he noticed ever growing numbers of people on the streets and decided to look after people closer to home by providing food for this group of marginalised people. Fourteen years later and TBU is a much-loved emergency food relief organisation, feeding hundreds of people restaurant quality meals each week and sharing kindness and friendship with people suffering acute loneliness. All our meals are made from rescued food that otherwise would have ended up in landfill.

Currently the City of Melbourne states that one in three Melbournians are classified as being food insecure, meaning they are regularly going without food. TBU is committed to playing a vital role in alleviating this unacceptable statistic one nutritious meal at a time. 

  1. How has The Big Umbrella evolved since its establishment, and what positive impact has it made on the local community?

TBU had very humble beginnings outside Flinders Street Station, where hot soup and pancakes were handed out to people in need with warm smiles. Today TBU is housed in an impressive Emergency Food Relief Centre in Brunswick comprising a 100 square metre commercial kitchen, warehouse, training space, and high-production urban farm. The centre is powered by 97 solar panels with Tesla batteries, and water tanks capture the rainwater to water the urban farm. Nothing is wasted, with kitchen scraps composted to fill wicking beds to grow fresh food. It is one of the most sustainable commercial food production operations in Australia. On the street TBU offers the best free meal service in Melbourne. Each Wednesday and Thursday the TBU team of volunteers offer up to 25 dishes of hot, cold, sweet, and savoury varieties catering for all dietary requirements and cultural sensitivities. TBU also runs a free supermarket and material aid.

The impact TBU has had on the community of marginalised people and friends on the street has been enormous. They have benefitted eating the nutritious meals prepared by TBU’s kitchen team and enjoyed the opportunity to sit down to eat their dinner in a family style relaxed and inclusive atmosphere. TBU values creating community through conversation as much as feeding people delicious meals. To date we have served 380,000 meals in our 14 years and rescued 500 tonnes of food preventing it from going into landfill.

Our volunteer program has seen 35,500 people donate their precious time to care for people in need. This number includes wonderful IFAS Group crew, our individual volunteers who come from all professions and walks of life, as well as corporate volunteers who pay to volunteer with TBU. This Corporate Team Building Program covers TBU’s overheads and operating cost.

  1. The partnership between The Big Umbrella and IFAS Security has been instrumental during food truck events at Federation Square. Could you shed light on how this collaboration came about and its contribution to the success of The Big Umbrella’s initiatives?

Sifa (IFAS Group Director) is a long-time close friend of Justin’s and when TBU Volunteers experienced an increase in threats of violence and antisocial behaviours IFAS Group came to the rescue, offering their service each night TBU does evening street service. IFAS staff have been invaluable, creating a peaceful safe space for our street diners, and allow TBU volunteers to concentrate on providing the meals to our friends on the street

  1. Running a charity organization focused on feeding the homeless undoubtedly presents challenges and rewards. What are some notable ones?

In the past 3 years the demand for TBU’s services has doubled while corporate sponsorship has halved. This would be the greatest challenge at the moment.

  1. Community partnerships, like the one with IFAS Security, often play a pivotal role in outreach efforts. How do these partnerships enhance The Big Umbrella’s effectiveness?

The community partnership between IFAS Group and TBU has been invaluable. TBU is able to offer a very safe and inclusive experience and space to our friends on the street receiving kindness and volunteers participating in street service. 

  1. How does The Big Umbrella ensure its services go beyond providing food, fostering a sense of community and support for those experiencing homelessness?

Each night TBU’s volunteers sit down with our friends on the street and share a meal and chat like family. This time is precious, providing marginalised and homeless friends an experience where they are treated with dignity and kindness. Also offering such a large and diverse food menu, catering for dietary requirements and cultural sensitivities, creates that sense of community and inclusiveness.

  1. Are there any particularly memorable stories or moments from your experiences with The Big Umbrella that stand out to you?

There are too many to recall! Each night new memories are created. A few standout memories include a young indigenous man who was volunteering with his school from far-north Queensland, a marginalised community in itself. This young man had a solution to solve inequality by simply getting one person with resources or ‘enough’ to sponsor and take care of one person in need. Simple. 

Another stand out story was when a new TBU volunteer recruit revealed that 2 years prior he had been a regular recipient of TBU’s meals and support at a time he was gripped by severe drug dependency. Week after week he dreamed of turning his life around to the point that he could become a volunteer and repay the kindness looking after other people in need. This story brought tears to everyone’s eyes. 

  1. Looking ahead, what future goals and expansion plans does The Big Umbrella envision if any?

TBU hopes to offer its meal service 5 nights a week at Federation Square with an evening meal service offered to the community in Brunswick as well

  1. For individuals or businesses seeking to support and get involved with The Big Umbrella, what would you suggest?

Please contact our Team Building  co-ordinator Victoria at to discuss a corporate activity, fundraising or possible sponsorship. To volunteer please contact Eva at