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Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Good works for cost-of-living Christmas

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A festive meal is prepared lovingly by dozens of volunteers from St Canice’s Kitchen for hundreds of people who are homeless or struggling with the rising cost of living. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
A festive meal is prepared lovingly by dozens of volunteers from St Canice’s Kitchen for hundreds of people who are homeless or struggling with the rising cost of living. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Decorations are up and sales have begun as families flock to shopping centres, embracing the Christmas spirit of gift-giving.

But in a year of rising interest rates and financial hardships, volunteers at Sydney’s charities have found they’re giving more than usual.

“Families are now coming along to food runs because mortgages and rent are so high. The prices they’re expected to pay when they’ve got three or four kids is crazy,” said Julie, a helper at the Heaven on Earth feed in Liverpool.

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The feed has operated for almost a decade and has traditionally catered to the homeless, but its volunteers are now recognising new faces each week who are battling economic pressures.

Mona arrived in Australia with her husband and daughter as refugees from Iran 10 years ago, and says the situation is only getting worse.

“Everything has increased, prices have gone up and even basic things are now all very expensive, it’s very difficult right now,” she said.

The family, Christian converts from Islam forced out of Iran, have found a happy home in Australia, though their financial burdens mean it’s a struggle just to keep it.

“I know have a son too, and if I wanted to compare to 10 years ago, it’s only getting harder for us as a family,” Mona said.

Volunteer Julie, who has spent significant periods of her life on the streets, has had her own experiences of not knowing when her next meal would come.

She sympathises with all those who come looking for help.

“I’m not rich by any means, but I like to give,” she said.

“I relate to all that come as my family, I like to pray for them and tell them God’s watching over them.”

Vinnies regional director for metro operations Ashvini Ambihaipahar, who has been in her role for only six months, has noticed the changing demographics of those seeking charity.

Gift of Bread rescues left-over bread from bakeries and distributes it to other charities, welfare organisations, refuges and soup kitchens, public housing estates, parish groups, schools’ breakfast clubs and more. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Gift of Bread rescues left-over bread from bakeries and distributes it to other charities, welfare organisations, refuges and soup kitchens, public housing estates, parish groups, schools’ breakfast clubs and more. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“The issue that I have seen in such a short period is we’re getting people who have full-time employment—and families with dual incomes—turn to Vinnies for the first time,” said Ashvini.

The charity reports the number of people seeking assistance has risen from one-in-four to one-in-three within a year and themed their annual Christmas Appeal around the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

In response, Vinnies will be relaunching their involvement in the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance program, a NSW Government subsidy program helping people to pay electricity and natural gas bills.

“It’s a challenging time because with the interest rates going up it’s putting added pressures onto households, so we need to provide that service,” Ashvini said.

Both the Gift of Bread charity in North Parramatta and St Canice’s Kitchen out of St Canice’s Church in Elizabeth Bay are providing more services than usual this Christmas.

“We’re giving out 400 hampers for Christmas,” said Gift of Bread’s Marcel de Maria.

“We now have 60-80 families that come and fill three-four big Coles bags. There’s been a huge increase in just ordinary working families doing it hard.”

Kitchen coordinator at St Canice’s Oliver Mulhearn is expecting 250-300 guests for Christmas lunch on 21 December thanks to housing stress and other cost-of-living pressures, but also because the kitchen is known for its year-round hospitality to those living on the margins.

He’s spent four months sourcing donations from local businesses, parishes and schools to provide hams, lamb shoulders, beef roasts, salads and desserts and 200 back packs stuffed with gifts, hampers and shopping vouchers.

“It’s the most rewarding job. I love it,” he said.

It’s a sentiment that Julie from Heaven on Earth too shares each Monday.

“As long as at Christmas, these people are fed, feel wanted and at home and loved, then that’s the best we can ask for, that’s all I wish for them,” she said.

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