My life as an undercover volunteer
Secret Millionaire – Channel Nine 9.30pm 29 Oct 2009
Episode Four: Features Naomi Simson
5.30am is a good time to start the day. No one is around, the highway quiet, the neighbors still asleep. I grab an apple for breakfast as a head of to get myself to Brisbane again. I’ve learned about a day drop in centre for the homeless called 139 Club. By the time I finally get to the Valley I’m put straight to work in the kitchen. (I’m glad for my coffee shop experience I know how to use a commercial dishwasher).
Phyllis runs the kitchen and catering, a very tight ship, she has been a cook and chef for years in café’s. She has been at the centre for only about three months. She get’s me roasting tomatoes first, chopping potatoes, chipolatas, toasting thick slices of bread. All donated.
Breakfast is on at 8.30 and clients start appearing at the counter. Breakfast is bacon, eggs, sausages, spaghetti (home made – they don’t like tinned I’m advised), thick hand sliced toast, porridge and there is always a big vat of soup on the go. It is $2 for a hot breakfast – porridge, toast, and soup are free. Instant coffee is 10 cents for a sachet.
I enjoy serving the food. Some clients delight in the hearty tucker, some are far away in another place. Most smile when they see my new face. Time disappears. I’m soon cleaning up and onto making lunch. Morning Tea is at 10am is donated pies and sausage rolls. All free.
The building is large and clean, 139 Club has been there for 20 years. The department of housing owns the building. The kitchen is noisy and ancient. Phyllis tells me of her plans for a new kitchen – but the money has to come from somewhere.
Rod the manager takes me on a tour. I’m impressed by how clean everything is; the building, facilities, the people. There are 11 day beds – ‘for those who might have slept rough’ he explains – a massive flat screen and dvd player. He said it’s amazing it does not ‘walk’ but people respect this place, it is their sanctuary. There are lockers for storage, showers and washing machine. All at almost no cost.
In front of the building ten of the clients with mental disabilities have been building an organic veggie garden. They have received some great local press on it. Participants work towards getting a horticulture qualification. There is great pride for the garden. They have bigger plans – and more that they want to do.
Rod explains that on a daily basis they run quite smoothly serving meals and supporting people in need. Food parcels are on the increase, clothes and bedding are also donated and distributed. He says the greatest challenge is the big stuff, like the washing machines died – that was $6000 to have replaced. The freezer’s motor died, $2000 later. The refrigerated van is dying as are the Bain-marie, the kitchen exhaust, the oven and on the list goes. There is no air conditioning in the kitchen which means that it is sweltering in summer. They want new dining tables and chairs. The list is endless.
I know that it is funded partly through government subsidies and that in kind donations are significant. I cannot determine what other fundraising they do.
After chatting to Mary a client – I really struggled with this interview, but she did There was a line of more than 80 people all waiting for lunch – Thursday’s is free lunch day. Lunch is yummy, a bacon, goats cheese and pumpkin pasta, my tomato, chipolata casserole, steamed veggies, rice, salads and a pudding and ice cream desert. No wonder there are so many delighted faces.
After serving with Sandra, Phyllis and Dominic, I grab a bowl and have some myself. It is delicious. After finishing the food service Rod returns to take me to the dungeon.. (Many of the services visit here directly, a doctor once a week and nurse 4 days).
The Dungeon is Judy’s domain, she has been a volunteer for nine months and works consistently at sorting clothes and bedding, donated and then donating clean clothes to anyone who needs them. Toilet packs, ground sheets, doona’s pillows – anything someone would need. Judy tells me that they really only have men’s and women’s things – children’s clothes go to the women’s refuge.
I ask why she volunteers – ‘well she says, I relate to them, I understand where they are coming from.’
Judy mentions she has been in hospital for three weeks – it’s an mastectomy and lymph removal. She starts Chemo next week, she can no longer stay in her boarding house, it is not suitable, so heath services have found her a small flat – she has no furnishings. I wonder who is going to hold her hand in oncology, be there to support her when she is feeling really low. She is so busy helping everyone else, a smile for everyone, a hug for all.
I really like this place – I will come back.
When I finally head towards my green neon hilton back on the coast I am absolutely exhausted. The hours have disappeared. I have lot’s to think about on the journey. I’ve met so many people with such big hearts. It is becoming increasingly clear that to choose where to contribute is going to be a massive decision – and I don’t have my husband around to talk it through with. I miss them.