Love in the lockdown

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As authorised workers during the Greater Sydney lockdown, Maronites on Mission volunteers continue to provide care and services to some of the city’s most vulnerable people. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

A light in the darkness, Maronites on Mission keeps caring for the forgotten in and around Sydney

During the lockdown, charities such as Maronites on Mission Australia are determined to continue to reach out to Sydney’s rough sleepers and other people needing a little help to get by.

Each Thursday night this month, when the charity’s distinctive van pulls into Martin Place laden with freshly cooked hot meals, the concourse, usually bustling with late night shoppers and office-workers is mostly deserted.

With the lockdown…we can’t provide the companionship…But we will continue to provide for those material needs in a way that keeps them and our volunteers out of harm’s way.
-George Nasr

George Nasr, a director at the charity, says that while the current lockdown has forced it to pare back some of its projects, its food services across the city continue in a COVID-safe way – although meal preparations at St Charbel’s Church in Punchbowl stopped last week as it is located in one of the areas of heightened concern.

That includes the Thursday night run providing around 100-200 dinners to the Woolloomooloo and Martin Place outdoor stops, which is usually organised out of St Charbel’s Church and St Maroun’s Church at Redfern, a meal service in Hornsby offered through St George’s Church, Thornleigh, and a Surry Hills soup kitchen and meal service in Parramatta, organised through St Joseph’s Church in Croydon.

“Of course the food is just one reason for people to come and see us, many also come to talk and meet that need for companionship, friendship, respect and love,” Mr Nasr told The Catholic Weekly.

“Unfortunately with the lockdown instead of stopping for a chat they have to take their food and drink and go. We can’t provide the companionship part of it which is so very important. But we will continue to provide for those material needs in a way that keeps them and our volunteers out of harm’s way.”

Maronites on Mission is a relatively new charity running a number of outreach projects across greater Sydney with the help of young adult volunteers. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The charity, which was founded in 2013, also has a successful home visiting program based at Punchbowl and St John the Beloved Church in Mt Druitt for people who are not comfortable with going out to collect meals and other support, or are unable to.

“There are many people who have a roof over their head, often they live in government housing, and they are just barely getting by,” Mr Nasr said, who estimated that requests for support had “doubled or tripled” since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re getting enquiries from everywhere, he said. “People are calling, emailing, messaging us through Facebook, trying anyway they can to reach us. “We’re trying to meet the need but we have a budget to keep to in order to to ensure our charity has longevity.

“We’ve been asking for increased donations and people have responded well but it’s never enough.”

Fellow director Ann-Marie Boumerhe agreed it was during the lockdown that the work of charities are needed more than ever and is concerned that some people are falling through the gaps during Sydney’s lockdown.

“Some of our regulars who catch the train down to us at Hornsby from Woy Woy and Umina for support each week are staying away at the moment, and we just hope that they’re ok.”

Phone calls, beds, showers and take-away meals

Carrie Deane, community manager at St Canice’s Kitchen in Elizabeth Bay, east of the CBD, said that it had closed its indoor and outdoor dining areas and was running a takeaway service offering its usual variety of hot, freshly cooked lunches each day.

Along with shower and toilet facilities, health and legal support, St Canice’s is also offering to keep in touch by phone with any community members feeling isolated during the lockdown.

Carrie Deane, community manager at Canice’s Kitchen in Sydney. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“We’ve providing a strictly COVID-safe service with a maximum of six volunteers who cook and distribute the meals in plastic carry bags at the gate, while our coffee shop is still open but also operating as a takeaway only,” Ms Deane said.

“So far we’re seeing our regular clientele of around 130 people per day but I expect that if the lockdown continues for much longer we’ll see a spike in the need for our services,” she added.

Brett Macklin, director of housing and homeless at St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, said that it was similarly business as usual at the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Wooloomooloo, except for increased COVID-safe measures including take-away meals being provided for non-residents.

The Society was closely monitoring the situation, but had not discerned a rise in numbers of people needing assistance as yet, he said.

How you can help

Maronites on Mission welcomes donations of money, long-life food and blankets. Email [email protected]

Canice’s Kitchen is hosting a backyard winter sleepout for teenagers to raise awareness of the realities of rough sleeping. It is a COVID-safe online event on 31 July. Details at Canice’s Kitchen Facebook page and this video https://youtu.be/8n3uINZpix4

Donate to the St Vincent de Paul’s Matthew Talbot Homelessness Appeal at this link

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