Published Tuesday 7 June 2016
Can you imagine having to hide everything you own in a tree each night?
Ten years ago, John came to our Community Meal service in Fortitude Valley looking for some food and a warm place to spend a couple of hours. John was a carpenter and joiner by trade, but after the company he worked for went under, John sank heavily into drinking.
“I slept in the Botanical Gardens for two years, with the snakes and possums and spiders,” John says. “I was taking cold showers at South Bank. I’d stash my stuff in trees, but I had my shoes stolen, my I.D. stolen... The streets can be a very dangerous place. I’ve had knives drawn on me, I’ve had a man point a gun at me wanting my wallet, which only had a couple of bucks in it. It was a nightmare.”
One day, John met Rev. Tim Hodgson, formerly from Albert Street Uniting Church, who connected him with Community Meal. I got to know Tim, John says. I started going to Community Meal, and I helped out my friend Wayne in the kitchen, peeling potatoes for six months.”
Rev. Tim helped John get into rehab, and John continued to volunteer at Community Meal. After Wayne passed away in 2011, John took over his role as head chef, and these days he runs the kitchen on Wednesday nights, cooking a three-course dinner for between 70 and 150 guests.
“Community Meal is a place where people can come and feel safe, instead of hanging around on the streets. It’s always been a friendly atmosphere. If anyone needs help, we’ll try and help them. Sometimes they just need somebody to talk to, and I’ll talk to anyone. I know their situation. I’ve been there. If we can help them, we will.”
We have some big hopes and dreams for Community Meal – perhaps even expanding to a second night each week – but if we’re going to keep this great program running at full capacity through the winter months, we need to meet our $30,000 goal by 30 June.
Any gifts we receive will provide necessary food and ingredients, help pay for a volunteer coordinator and keep the lights and fridges on. A gift of $18 would help cover the cost of providing this vital service for one person a week.
For John, Community Meal was a fresh start. He quit drinking and got his life in order. Today, John lives with friends near the water on Brisbane’s north side, and continues to volunteer at Community Meal three days a week, taking deliveries, cleaning the kitchen and preparing meals.
“I enjoy doing it,” he says. “I needed help, and I found Community Meal. Volunteering is my way of paying it back. I’ll keep coming here until I drop.”
Hopefully you will never have to face life on the streets like John did, but if it should ever happen to you or someone you love, at least you are ensuring there will be somewhere to go to find a hot meal, a welcoming smile and a listening ear.
To help John and Community Meal raise $30,000 by 30 June, donate online here. Alternatively, contact Mitch Witherington firstname.lastname@example.org to establish a regular gift via payroll.