Barbara is the Volunteer Program Manager at the Exodus Foundation in Ashfield in the inner west of Sydney. Part of her job is to coordinate volunteers for the Christmas Day lunch. Up to 2000 people are expected to turn up for a traditional Christmas meal with all the trimmings. Many are homeless or have nowhere else to go on the day.
The Exodus Foundation's mission is to attend to the material, emotional and spiritual needs of disadvantaged and marginalised people. Their priority is to educate young Australians to protect them against the prospect of future unemployment and homelessness.
Why is the Exodus Foundation’s Christmas Day so important?
It’s important because, without the Exodus Foundation, the many people who enjoy a traditional Christmas lunch would have nowhere else to go. Besides, it’s not just about the meal – it’s the whole day, the interaction and the social environment.
I don’t think that everyone who comes to the Exodus Foundation on Christmas Day comes because they are hungry – some are, but others are socially isolated and just enjoy being there. It’s somewhere that they can come and, with no questions asked, feel like they belong – that they are somebody on Christmas Day.
We began preparing for Christmas in June. It’s been very hectic because I’m new to the job. I started by contacting the 1000 people on our database who have volunteered in the past. I asked whether they would be interested in helping over the Christmas period and on Christmas Day.
We need about 270 volunteers – it takes a lot of people to make it all happen.
The Christmas lunch at Exodus caters for 3000 people but we expect between 1200 and 2000 to turn up. It all starts for the guests at 11 am when the first meals are served. They get the full Christmas roast and Christmas pudding. We have a great chef who really cooks up a storm. After they have finished their meal, the guests move to Santa’s cave to get their present and the next guests are served. This goes on until about 3pm. We have a large marquee set up for the lunch that seats about 300 people at a time.
It’s an area where guests can sit and talk to each other or with counsellors. There’s no time limit on how long they stay. It’s not just about feeding the hungry but providing a Christmas experience for them on Christmas Day.
Everything from wrapping 10 000 serviettes around pieces of cutlery on Christmas Eve, to setting tables, helping the chef in the kitchen with vegetable preparation and washing up – there’s lots of washing up to do! Then some serve meals and clean tables while others – team carers – circulate with the guests, spending time making them feel comfortable and welcome.
It’s a massive logistics exercise. We have to hire the marquee as well as special fridges, coolers and other catering equipment. Most if not all the food is donated. The volunteers work on a two-hourly rotation but some stay longer. It’s quite an experience to be part of a very special day.
I work at Exodus because I like the sense of purpose that it gives me – it’s a reason to get up, get dressed and get out of the house every day. I feel part of a team committed to helping those in need.