Force of Nature: OzHarvest’s Michele Lipner
With a background in international aid, Michele Lipner decided to combine her experience and passion to conquer food waste by launching the local OzHarvest chapter.
From a young age Michele Lipner knew she wanted to help people. The northern Californian graduated with a master’s degree in clinical psychology and PhD in sociology. She took her big personality onto the world stage and fell into international aid by accident.
“My first overseas experience was in Ethiopia right before the overthrow of a seventeen-year Marxist regime,” said Michele.
“Tanks were coming into the capital and I wasn’t scared, rather I felt strangely alive.”
From there she began working in international aid and development in the Republic of Georgia after the break-up of the former Soviet Union. According to Michele, she was running an NGO program to help refugees and internally displaced people who had been affected by the conflict and fell in love with the work.
Her career took her to conflict zones in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the former Soviet Union, and finally Indonesia after the tsunami in 2004. According to Michele, “My very last international posting was in Aceh Province Indonesia after the tsunami. Within two weeks of being there, a follow-up earthquake of 8.7 hit. I realised that my ability to go with the flow was far better when I was dealing with warlords and guns than natural disasters.”
She met her future husband in Afghanistan while she was part of the UN Assistance Mission. He promised her a life by the water, so she followed him to Australia eventually settling down in Peregian Beach in 2010.
She started the OzHarvest Sunshine Coast chapter in 2014 from her garage and then moved into the parking lot of Noosa Salvation Army. A grant from Noosa Council enabled her to purchase a cold storage unit to collect and distribute on a larger scale. She now has a warehouse in Coolum Beach which has allowed her to expand collection and distribution to its current capacity of 10,000kgs of food each month.
Michele spends 35-40 hours each week coordinating a small army of 65 volunteers who collect unused food from designated producers, supermarkets, bakeries, butchers and two farmers markets across the Coast. They currently deliver to 36 recipient aid agencies from Gympie to Caloundra.
“Since we’ve started the Sunshine Coast chapter, we have collected 230,000kgs of food,” said Michele.
“OzHarvest doesn’t simply just raise awareness, it changes attitudes and behaviour and turns those into action.”
To find out more, donate and volunteer visit www.ozharvest.org/sunshine-coast.