'A real festive atmosphere': Charities rally to feed homeless, lonely this Christmas

Volunteers across Australia have set out to save Christmas for people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and loneliness, with lunch, gifts and love on offer.

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eople are seen as Australian states Victoria and New South Wales reimplemented mask-wearing mandate for indoors places after rising number of COVID-19 cases Source: Getty

Volunteers across Australia have set out to save Christmas for the homeless, poor and lonely, with lunch, gifts and love on offer.

For many people, Christmas is a day filled with joy, family and good cheer.

But for others, it is the loneliest day of the year.

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"It's a time of year that many people feel a real sense of absence and loss and despair," Wayside Chapel chief executive Jon Owen told AAP.

But that's something charities like his are hoping to change, pulling out all stops to show love to people who are homeless, those who are ostracised from their families, and others separated from their loved ones by domestic and international borders.



It has already been a terrible year for most people, the pastor says, so the Wayside Chapel is determined that its annual Christmas lunch in Sydney's Potts Point won't be cancelled for the second year running.

"It broke our hearts last year not to be able to hold one in quite the same way," he said.

"For so many of our people we are their family, so we're still going to have a family Christmas this year and we are going to do it with more safety precautions than just about any other."

There'll be a Christmas service, live music and a visit from Santa to compliment the picnic lunch served between 11.30am and 2pm.

Volunteers will be fully vaccinated and decked out in PPE, and instead of chairs and tables, guests will sit on socially distanced rugs while eating their Christmas feast.

"We say to everyone, don't be at home alone and miserable, come and be miserable with us," Pastor Owen said.

It's not just the guests who "have a hole in their hearts" at Christmas, he said.

victoria
People are seen as Australian states Victoria and NSW reimplemented mask-wearing mandate for indoors places after rising number of COVID-19 cases. Source: Getty


Many volunteers sign up because they're lonely too. This year several have lost children to suicide in the past year.

"They feel like it would be hollow to hold a Christmas celebration this year with an empty chair at the table," he said.

"So they're filling that hole in their heart by loving others who don't have access to mums and dads and family.

"It's beautiful - it kind of makes me bawl."

Reverend Bill Crews will also be spending his 50th Christmas with the poor and lonely.

Some 2,000 people are expected to come through the doors of his foundation's hub in Ashfield in Sydney's inner west, where volunteers are handing out takeaway Christmas meals and gifts.

Meals will also be delivered to 11 other locations across the city, and more than 4,500 Christmas hampers have been distributed to families that would otherwise put food on the table.



Sacred Heart Mission in Melbourne has taken a similar approach and will serve a takeaway Christmas roast and pudding for up to 500 people from its front courtyard at 87 Grey Street in St Kilda.

"We'll be making sure there's a real festive atmosphere for people coming along," chief executive Cathy Humphrey said.

The mission, which offers vaccinations from a hub outside its St Kilda premises, hopes to reopen its dining hall next year but it will depend on vaccine uptake.

"Our biggest challenge is, for people to come into the dining hall, they need to be double vaccinated. So we've got a lot of work to do to increase those numbers," Ms Humphrey said.

Uniting Victoria will deliver "Christmas in a box" to people in need within Melbourne's inner suburbs, while The Salvation Army is offering takeaway Christmas brunch and dinner from 69 Bourke Street in Melbourne CBD.

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass during his journey to Cyprus and Greece
Pope Francis celebrates a Mass during his journey to Cyprus and Greece Source: SBS / , IPA/Sipa USA


Pope Francis, leading the world's Roman Catholics into Christmas, has said people who are indifferent to the poor offend God, urging all to "look beyond all the lights and decorations" and remember the neediest.

Francis, ushering in the ninth Christmas of his pontificate, celebrated a solemn vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for about 2000 people, with participation restricted by COVID-19 to about a fifth of the size of pre-pandemic years.

Minutes before the Christmas Eve Mass started, Italy reported a second successive record daily tally of COVID-19 cases, with new infections hitting 50,599.

Francis, wearing white vestments, wove his homily around the theme that Jesus was born with nothing.

"Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations, which are beautiful. We contemplate the child," he said in the homily of the Mass con-celebrated with more than 200 cardinals, bishops and priests. 

Pope Francis talks to people at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 5 December 2021.
Pope Francis talks to people at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 5 December 2021. Source: AAP


Francis, who turned 85 last week, said the baby Jesus born in poverty should remind people that serving others is more important than seeking status or social visibility or spending a lifetime in pursuit of success.

"It is in them (the poor) that he wants to be honoured," said Francis, who has made defence of the poor a cornerstone of his pontificate.

"On this night of love, may we have only one fear: that of offending God's love, hurting him by despising the poor with our indifference. Jesus loves them dearly, and one day they will welcome us to heaven," he said.

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5 min read
Published 25 December 2021 at 1:00pm
Source: AAP,SBS