Gifts bring a ray of light to the street

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    Kick Start General Manager Paul Borghetti holds gift packs ready for distribution. Photo: supplied

    A group of Sydney charities that feed, shelter and clothe the homeless have teamed up to ensure an annual feast for the disadvantaged has been able to continue, despite COVID-19 restrictions.

    Street Feast, held to mark Pope Francis’ World Day of the Poor on 14 November, normally brings together hundreds of homeless people at outdoor luncheons held at  Sydney and Parramatta.

    While the homeless were unable to gather in person this year, the great tradition has continued thanks to the efforts of major sponsor, the PAYCE Foundation, which has supported Street Feast since it started in 2018.

    The PAYCE Foundation’s social enterprise Kick Start has delivered 500 care packages directly to Sydney’s most marginalised, both on the streets and through homeless shelters such as the Matthew Talbot hostel and Tierney House for those recovering from chronic health conditions.

    Street Feast gift packs await distribution. Photo: supplied

    PAYCE Chief Executive Officer, Mr Dominic Sullivan said his organisation worked closely with the Justice and Peace Office of the Archdiocese of Sydney and other Catholic charities to coordinate the distribution of the gift packs which included personal care items such as toothpaste, shampoo and soap as well as special treats many of us take for granted including chocolate and muesli bars.

    “We want to recognise and acknowledge that they’re appreciated and that we respect the dignity of every person. On World Day of the Poor, it’s as much a symbol of working with the poor and for the poor, but also being part of their journey”, he said.

    “That’s what Streetfeast is meant to symbolise, taking up Pope Francis’ call for us all to seek out the poor and to try and share our gifts with the poor”.

    Among those receiving the care packs are the residents of the Matthew Talbot hostel for homeless men which offers shelter to around 100 homeless men every day.

    Its Mission, Spirituality and Pastoral Care Partner Ms Joy Bowen said many of the residents have experienced abusive childhoods and struggle in adult life with substance abuse and mental health problems.

    She said the care packs offer a much needed morale boost for the residents at a time when the service has come under greater stress as a result of the COVID lockdown.

    “It’s not simply the content of each care pack, which I’m sure there’ll all be thrilled with, but also just the bag it comes in, which is a real treasure to them. For our day visitors who are rough sleepers, they need to carry everything on their backs and so these sorts of bags are greatly appreciated”, Ms Bowen said.

    “The lockdown has been a challenging time where we were worried about the spread of COVID at the hostel where we don’t have individual bathroom facilities. So we managed to find accommodation for the men at various hotels that weren’t being used by international tourists”, she explained.

    “For some of the men, it was the first time they’ve ever had their own ensuite or slept in a double bed”.

    “For some of the men, it was the first time they’ve ever had their own ensuite or slept in a double bed”.

    It’s been a similar experience at nearby Tierney House and Stanford House which provides accommodation and health care to homeless people with chronic health conditions, led by St Vincent’s Health Australia.

    The Residential Services Manager at Tierney House and Stanford House, Cameron French, said it was wonderful to see the way the care packs help lift the morale of the residents.

    “It just adds to their self-esteem and if you can see it on people’s faces- they may utilise services  like food vans. But these services are a little more personal and I think that’s what makes all the difference”, he said.

    The Promoter of Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Sydney, Fr Peter Smith said there has been a very encouraging response to the care packs from the recipients.

    “We wanted to give them something that was a bit of a treat. Many of them day by day are receiving support in terms of getting a meal and food each day. But we included items like chocolates and personal care items that probably they don’t receive from the agencies that are supporting them throughout the year”, Fr Peter explained.

    “My hope would be that we continue to do this year by year- but we would love to get to the stage where there are no more homeless that we’re supporting. We would also like to see an increased concern for the poor from state and federal governments in terms of raising social service amounts that these people receive”, he added.

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