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Carport food charity boss ‘gobsmacked’ by white knight’s $120k lifeline

Mr Calleja, 64, thought the community was ‘‘very lucky we’ve got people like her’’ and vowed to ‘‘get off my arse’’ and help.

Mrs Warren says their first meeting was unconventional.

Kelly Warren pictured in July running Bk 2 Basics from the car port of her house.

Kelly Warren pictured in July running Bk 2 Basics from the car port of her house.Credit:Joe Armao

‘‘He was like, ‘hi I’m Joe, let’s go, jump in the car, we’re looking for a warehouse’,’’ she said.

‘‘I looked at [her daughter] Shanleigh going, ‘who is this crazy person’?’’

They found a vacant warehouse in an industrial zone in Vesper Drive, close to buses on Princes Highway.

Mrs Warren was ‘‘gobsmacked’’ that Mr Calleja offered to pay the lease for three years – about $40,000 a year.

Since Bk 2 Basics moved in on October 1, they have helped up to 200 people a day – twice the number at the house, ”and we’re running out [of stock] by the end of the day”.

They are getting referrals from a Pakenham food relief service that’s closing in November, as well as from local welfare and job agencies and disability workers.

Mrs Warren said Mr Calleja is a hero.

‘‘He’s enabled us to do what we want to do, to help the community.’’

Joe Calleja and Kelly Warren.

Joe Calleja and Kelly Warren.Credit:Eddie Jim

It means security for the charity but she is touched that ‘‘there are such generous people in the world. People that actually care about other people. Seeing the community spirit is amazing’’.

The warehouse is 10 times bigger than her carport, and has a secondhand shop to raise money.

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Donations are needed to pay the $500 a week power bill and to buy a new car to collect donated food from supermarkets.

Mr Calleja said Bk 2 Basics ‘‘reminds me where I came from’’.

He was born in war-ravaged Malta, where he and his parents and sister shared a small house with another family.

When he was eight, in 1963, the family migrated to Melbourne. His factory worker parents couldn’t afford a car until he was 18.

Mr Calleja, whose first job was as a forklift driver, now runs a Dandenong-based, national steel distribution company with 350 employees.

He has had a tough time after the recent deaths of his cousin in an accident and his son-in-law to suicide.

Room to move: Kelly Warren and Joe Calleja in the warehouse, which is much bigger than Ms Warren's car port.

Room to move: Kelly Warren and Joe Calleja in the warehouse, which is much bigger than Ms Warren’s car port.Credit:Eddie Jim

‘‘It was hard. I think I just wanted to help other people,’’ he said. ‘‘It makes me feel real good, makes me feel a part of them.

‘‘I’m a bogan at heart, who’s been lucky to make some money. My wife tells me I’m a rough diamond. I think that’s what I’d like to be.’’

Helen Cross, 24, of Pakenham, said Mr Calleja was ‘‘a lifesaver’’.

As mother to special needs child Eli, 4, Ms Cross is on a carer’s pension. Her partner Zane, 25, gets only sporadic work as a plasterer, so the couple get food at Bk 2 Basics when short of cash.

‘‘It really helps,’’ she said.

Helen Cross, Eli McMillan, 4, and Zane McMillan.

Helen Cross, Eli McMillan, 4, and Zane McMillan. Credit:Eddie Jim

Asked what she’d say to Mr Calleja, Ms Cross said, ‘‘thank you’’.

‘‘I know a lot of people who come here, who would have struggled if it wasn’t for him,’’ Ms Cross said.

‘‘He’s an angel. He deserves a lot in life. I believe in karma so good karma will come his way, definitely.’’

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