In 2013, an article about kids who had escaped violent homes and were in need of school shoes was all it took for Isabella Bevan to don her cape and leap into action. But she could have never known her idea would end up saving thousands of children, and provide a much needed light during the darkest of times.
It takes a special kind of person to respond to a cry for help.
We talk about them all of the time in literature, movies, TV; society’s superheroes.
But Isabella and David Bevan and Carmel and Terry Martin would never call themselves heroes, they’re too modest.
To them, they’re just four Queenslanders who simply saw a need and decided to meet it.
Back in 2013, an article about kids who had escaped violent homes and were in need of school shoes was all it took for Isabella Bevan to don her cape and leap into action.
Her goal: To help vulnerable children whose lives were so heavily disrupted by domestic and family violence to get back to school and feel a sense of normality, to feel like they belonged, and like someone cared.
“The article talked about shoes and school bags but I said to my husband David we can’t just give them shoes we have to give them a full uniform, and not just an empty bag, a full bag,” Mrs Bevan said.
“The whole idea was that within a matter of days of these children arriving at DV shelters, they could walk through the front gate of the school, enrolled and looking like everyone else; wearing the right uniform, holding the right books, having a laptop if they needed one.”
By supplying a specially made school pack to take on their first day, and a brand new uniform to wear as they walk through the front gates, Mrs Bevan set out on a mission to give at-risk kids a chance to continue their education and hopefully , break out of the cycle of violence.
“We instinctively knew that education is key and that’s our motivation.”
And just like that, Zephyr was born.
Isabella’s dream ignites
It was a Saturday and Mrs Bevan just finished reading a Courier-Mail article written by then journalist Kathleen Noonan, which ended with a callout asking anyone if they could help provide school shoes and bags to kids staying in Queensland’s domestic violence shelters.
An idea sparked and she hit the ground running, immediately enlisting her husband David, sister Carmel and brother in law Terry.
None of them knew just how much their charitable mission -created in a garage- would grow to help thousands of children.
“I read the article and David and I decided to do something about it,” Mrs Bevan said.
“Then I rang Carmel, because she always read Kathleen Noonan and they agreed to put in what we put in.
“The reason I thought we could do something about it was because I instantly knew what we needed to give these children and I had contacts with school suppliers as I was working in a P & F (uniform) shop.
“That was Saturday. On Monday, I went to work.”
In less than 48 hours, Mrs Bevan had spoken with school suppliers and made arrangements to buy a collection of school stock at wholesale cost.
But her grand idea was based on timing.
“I approached a shelter and I said, this is my idea. We want to provide the children school items in 24-48 hours of ordering. She looked at me like I was crazy, as if I had two heads,” Mrs Bevan said.
The system worked perfectly. DV shelters and organizations would order school supplies or uniforms and Zephyr would pay for, pack and transport them.
“From that first meeting (with their DV case workers), the children will try on the shoes, collect their school bags straight away and make arrangements to be fitted for their uniform at a school supply shop that then invoice us,” Mrs Bevan’s sister Carmel Martin said.
“We would have a team of ‘responders’ who answer emails and requests, process them and have them approved and then orders ticked off and popped in the boot of a volunteer’s car or collected by a Followmont Transport truck and taken anywhere in Queensland free of cartoon..”
The system grew to allow Zephyr to send pre-packed stock to shelters and then top up their supplies after they were handed out, further reducing wait times.
“It became a full time job and Isabella used to always say, ‘what else would you be doing?” Mrs Martin said.
“The kids are unsettled, they don’t want to go to school. They (single parents) ask how they’re going to manage it and are told Zephyr will help them and relief floods them.
“Once they get the kid to school, after a short time they usually settle and that leaves space for the mother to make a considered decision. Sometimes they stay at the shelter, sometimes they go back.
“But that’s where I see that Zephyr is the game changer in this and it hearkens back to Isabella’s edict that we must be immediate. That’s the guts of what makes Zephyr so effective.”
Growth from the garage
Superheroes often have a secret hideout and Zephyr’s is located inside a Brisbane apartment garage.
In one of her many Zephyr articles, Kathleen Noonan accurately describes the 50 square meter concrete hole in the wall as “a mini Officeworks”.
Immaculately organized, walls lined with school bags floor to ceiling, the garage somehow also fits boxes upon boxes of stationery, shoes of all sizes, swimwear, books, notepads, lunch boxes, drink bottles, library totes, recorders -all of which become part of an elite packing system.
Zephyr contacted Queensland schools every year to create an individualized booklist so that bags could be pre-packed with books and stationery to suit any year group in any primary school.
But with Isabella as president, Carmel as treasurer, David writing grant applications and Terry helping every which way, four sets of hands quickly became too little.
Demand grew, and so did the Zephyr volunteer army.
“I thought it was going to be the four of us who worked it and funded it and see how we went, but it just grew enormously once other shelters knew about it, and they obviously contacted us and Isabella as you’ve gathered, couldn’t say no,” Terry Martin said.
“We had two shelters to start with, and had those for about six months. We became more confident and David registered us as a charity,” Mrs Bevan said.
“As the years went by, the volunteer base kept increasing and their ability is beyond belief. Everyone brings their best game and real ideas to the table.
“One day we were in a lift and a neighbor who had an IT business asked us if we needed a new website, and at that stage we needed an online ordering system. It was incredible,” Mr Bevan added.
Since its inception in 2013, Zephyr has grown from four volunteers to 50.
The charity currently supports 113 domestic violence shelters and organizations in Queensland, a further 19 in Western Australia and all seven domestic violence shelters in Tasmania -all while maintaining a 100 per cent volunteer workforce.
With almost no overheads or administration costs and a passion to keep Zephyr employee-free, Isabella and Carmel recognize that donations remain key to the charity’s success.
“We receive no government funding and our donations are from people and from community grants. We operate from rent free premises with unavoidable expenses around 1 percent, therefore virtually all of any donation is applied to Zephyr’s goals,” Mrs Martin said.
“Because everyone is a volunteer, they’re there because they want to be.
“We’ve been told that because of the size we’re at now, we should be employing people, but we’re really resistant to that because it goes against the nature of Zephyr.”
Through nine years of hard work, countless packing, tortuous data entry and adjusting to new stock management systems, Zephyr has flourished into a reputable, and trusted charity – and Isabella and Carmel aren’t stopping any time soon.
“I couldn’t imagine stepping away from Zephyr. The challenge now is to let it continue and continue,” Mrs Martin said.
“Every time I pack a pack, I get this feeling inside that I know it will be special for this little child. And every time I make a school pack, even nine years later, I feel that,” Mrs Bevan said.
“We won’t stop until we drop.”
During the last financial year, Zephyr spent $468,000 to help 3000 children get back into the classroom looking like a ‘new kid,’ delivering 1250 packs in time for the 2022 school year.
Society generally defines superheroes as beings who possess unique abilities or ‘powers’ and use them to do good.
It’s not a bird, or a plane, it’s Zephyr Education.
Listen to the podcast: Zephyr: How light gets in.
For more information or to donate to Zephyr Education Inc, visit the website.
Originally published as Zephyr: The superhero charity that saved 3000 kids