The Christmas project began in 1994 out of an awareness of the poverty and social isolation of residents of Licensed (now Assisted) Boarding Houses. As a result of advocacy, legislative change and effective monitoring, living conditions have improved. The NDIS has reduced social isolation. However, residents still have little personal money and very few have regular contact with family or friends.
As these people move to group homes or aged care, they remain poor and friendless. We maintain contact and have followed some people since 1994.
PERSONAL GIFT PARCELS
In 2020, 930 men and women across NSW received gift parcels of perfume or aftershave, socks and lollies.
These people were in varied living situations:
- 6 Assisted Boarding Houses
- 35 Group Homes
- 26 Aged Care facilities
- 33 people living independently with support
TOILETRY, FOOD AND GIFT HAMPERS
450 hampers containing a complete range of toiletries, enough basic food for three days, festive food, and a calendar were prepared for clients of:
- Redfern and Marrickville Mental Health teams
- The Mobile Assertive treatment teams at Camperdown and Croydon
- The Camperdown Core teams including The Case Management Team and Aboriginal Mental Health teams and Croydon Core team
- Royal Prince Alfred and Canterbury Drugs Health teams
Because of Covid restrictions, we packed a full lunch of chips and drinks, ham, turkey and two salads, home-made Christmas pudding and custard and gift bags for groups of 9, 8, 7 and 3 from the Mobile Assertive treatment team and three group homes. These were picked up or delivered on Christmas Eve for lunch on Christmas day.
6 clients joined our 4 residents for a sit-down festive lunch on Christmas Day. They sat at tables in our double carport. Three volunteers served them drinks and nibbles, then a main course and desert, shared lunch with them, then distributed presents.
A coded system allows interested people to send a personal Christmas card to one of the 930 people on our data base. In 2020, about 13,000 coded labels were distributed. Cards come back to the Gethsemane post box and are re-directed to the actual facility where the individual lives. Potentially, each person could receive at least 10 cards. These people never receive personal mail, so the cards are greatly enjoyed. They are often used to decorate a person’s room or the walls of a boarding house.
6 schools packed and delivered parcels for 500 people.
- Christian Brothers High School Lewisham (Primary section) reached residents without family in 10 aged care facilities and 2 group homes
- St Therese Primary, Mascot reached two very large aged care facilities
- Mount St Joseph, Milperra reached two aged care facilities
- Corpus Christi Primary, St Ives reached 2 assisted boarding houses
- St Brigid’s Primary, Marrickville reached 2 aged care facilities and one group home
- Chevalier College, Bowral reached Rosnel Hostel at Bundanoon and Southern Highlands Disability Trust at Mittagong
St Anthony’s Primary School Clovelly donated toiletries.
- Parishoners from and visitors to St Patrick’s Church Hill donated $27,452. Michael Whelan SM, parish priest, the Marist community and the parish team were deeply supportive of our Christmas project again this year. They have been our greatest supporters for well over 20 years.
- Individual donors sent $12,650
- Catholic Church Insurances gave a grant of $2,500
- Petersham RSL donated $1,000
- Marion Court Units donated tinned food. Catholic Women’s League and residents donated $736.50.
- Nicole and Chris at Priceline Marrickville Metro Pharmacy donated 300 each of a range of toiletries and Jodee, the buyer, searched for special deals on the others we bought. Kirsty looked for the best prices on perfume and aftershave. Alex and Chris delivered carloads of toiletries.
- Tim Mc Master, Manager of Woolworths at Marrickville Metro, and Saty Sandhu, Assistant, gave strong support and assistance to us. Woolworths discounted our hamper food orders and made special deliveries of the orders on three consecutive weeks. They covered the cost of sliced meat and other items for Christmas lunch.
- Catholic Education Office, Wollongong donated $2,000 to cover most of the cost of printing Christmas card labels. They involved schools in writing about 3,500 cards and CEO staff redirected them.
- MacKillop Grange Retirement Village donated a large amount of tinned food for hampers and some donations. Management was most helpful and supportive, liaising with Bernadette O’Sullivan RSJ, who is a resident.
- Greg and Robyn Bombell at Exercise, Prescription and Physiotherapy at Burwood encouraged clients to donate a large amount of festive food. There were also donations. They have supported us for many years.
- Kathy Wilson wrote names on all 930 labels for the gift parcels
- Tricia Meers worked on packing gifts and hampers over many Tuesdays and Saturdays. Tricia enlisted volunteers including Dee Butler, Maggie Hodge and Marie D’Alessandri. Tricia took over the record keeping so that we bought exactly what was needed. She worked tirelessly over three months.
- Members of the mental health and drugs health teams worked on packing hampers and assisted in delivering them.
- Tricia and Bernadette O’Sullivan SJ cooked 2 Christmas puddings each
- Tricia Meers spoke at three Masses at St Patrick’s Church Hill on the first Sunday of Advent and Myree spoke at five of them
- Raymond Younan and his assistants water blasted the carport, driveway, front steps and cleaned the chairs
- Many people assisted in shopping for food, looking for hard-to-find items, packing and distribution of parcels and hampers
- Tony and Rhonda Tanti drove to Peninsula Village at Umina, Southern Highlands Disability Trust at Goulburn, and across Sydney delivering gift parcels. They ran appeals at their parish church in Lidcombe and collected a very large amount of tinned food for the hampers. They helped sort and stack these and the food deliveries from Woolworths.
- Michael Holland delivered a carload of gift parcels to Katoomba aged care and group homes
- Some volunteers, such as Michael Holland, Liz Croucher, Jo Brady RSJ, Jude Besterwitch, Ids Groenhaut, Paul Rovali and John Star assisted many times
- All work on packing of gift parcels and hampers was done in accordance with Covid-19 health regulations. Volunteers’ details were recorded, work was done in the open, under our double carport, with hand sanitising and social distancing. Once delivered to mental health and drug facilities, hampers were quarantined for two weeks before being given to their clients. Gift parcels, provided well in advance, had the same protection.
Bernadette Chad prepared the data-base and checked names over six months.
Bernadette Chad and George Harris sorted, packaged and re-posted or delivered many thousands of Christmas cards addressed to 930 people in 70 facilities. They drove around or walked to nearby places to deliver some of them. They did this during the whole of December.
We have been contacted by a number of facilities to say that their residents delighted in the cards and gift parcels they received. Some individuals have also responded. Flourish group homes were most appreciative of the Christmas lunch we packed for them.
Thank you to everyone who participated.
Myree Harris RSJ
9th January 2021