Sam Ali never thought he would be sleeping on a pile of clothes in emergency housing at 60.
After a lifetime working long hours in the food industry, COVID hit hard and he fell behind on the rent for his inner-city kebab shop.
Calls to charity organisations eventually resulted in him being given a cold, run down, bedsit in Sydney’s south but without a fridge, bed, lounge and most importantly hope, life seemed unimaginable until he met Tony Cranney.
As generous as his days are long, “Saint Tony” as he’s become known has devoted the past 40 years to those on the margins, recently winning a Dempsey Medal for his life of service.
Leaving under the cover of darkness at 3am each morning, the 62-year-old plumber does a 10-hour day at work, before hitting the road to either collect or drop off goods to anyone in need.
It’s his caring for the forgotten that reminds him of what’s important and has donated everything from fridges, lounges, dining tables, beds, microwaves, tvs and even a kidney to a mate suffering ill health.
However, Tony provides a lot more than furniture he delivers hope, compassion, dignity, and love.
While the need in the community is heart-breaking due to anything from addiction, domestic violence or mental health, the reaction he gets from those he meets makes it all worthwhile.
“Sam is typical of so many I see who are found housing but have literally nothing to put in it,” he said.
“He was sleeping on a pile of clothes because he didn’t have a bed, sitting on the floor because he didn’t have a lounge, and he kept his hummus in his oven because he didn’t have a fridge.
“How can a human live like that in Australia today? As important as the material things are, we all deserve to matter, to be cared for and be helped.
“How someone in such challenging circumstances can give me a hug, a smile and a genuine thank you is such an inspiration.”
Unable to put his feet up after almost 40 forty years volunteering with the St Vincent de Paul Society –the last four as Sydney Central president during the COVID-19 pandemic—the tireless community worker has set up his own “charity” to meet demands the big organisations can’t.
The Graham Everson Foundation, named after his long-time friend who passed away a few years ago after spending more than 20 years as a quadriplegic following a car accident, is picking up those falling through the cracks.
His hired garage is jam-packed with donated lounges, TVs, washing machines, tables and chairs, and is emptied almost as quickly as it is filled.
“I am helping one person at a time. If someone needs a lounge and I’ve got one available I deliver it, it’s that simple” he said.
“Can you imagine what it’s like saying to someone, ‘Now you can get off the floor and sit on a lounge?’ It’s not just furniture, it’s dignity.
“I started doing this under the banner of Vinnies 38-years ago and while they still do great work, I am doing it independently so I can get more done with less rules.
“There’s no red tape or paperwork. All I need is a first name and an address and if I’ve got it, it’s theirs.
“And to be honest, a lot of the stuff I pick up or drop off probably wouldn’t be accepted by the big charities for one reason or another, even though there’s not much wrong with it. So I am helping someone with nothing and avoiding the pieces going to landfill.
“People ask me why I do it and the only answer I have is that I am living my Christian faith, there’s a huge need out there and am driven by that need.
“It would be much easier to give $50 a week, but they don’t need $50—they need a lounge, which costs more than that.
“Basically, the love of the Lord inspires me to offer up my efforts while my love of the poor and needy keeps me busy.
“And there’s more than enough work to go around for everybody. I would say 90 per cent of my work is people ringing me, because the big organisations can’t fulfill their needs.
“Once the phone stops ringing, I’ll spend my spare time playing golf, Until then, I feel the need to do it.
“I have been blessed with enough muscle, a ute and a trolley to be able to do this work and feel an obligation to use these gifts.
“I wish I had the answers and could make significant change in the world. Sadly I can’t. What I can do is relieve the needs of the poor and suffering, one family at a time.
“I get to meet and love the poor, while serving the Lord and thanking those who donate.”
Sam, who arrived in Australia from Turkey around 40 years ago, said that while he doesn’t know how things turned out the way they did, he is grateful for his new mate Tony.
With a tear in his eye, he said he can’t thank him enough for not only the lounge but just as importantly for caring.
“I don’t know how I ended up here, I have worked hard all my life and done the right things,” he smiled.
“Two divorces didn’t help but here I am living here with very little.
“Tony is a good man, getting these things for me makes my life that little bit easier and happier.”