Here at The Farm, we enjoy supporting the Potts Point community and giving the gift of giving.
Rob Holt knows what it’s like to have nowhere to go on Christmas Day. For 18 months he was a rolling stone; homeless and addicted to alcohol and marijuana, failing to cope with a marriage breakdown. “I kinda hit a brick wall,” he says.
That was in 2009. By the following Christmas he had found a home and a new family, of sorts – the vagrants and volunteers of the Wayside Chapel, where he started a volunteer. This Friday will mark Mr Holt’s sixth Christmas on deck at Wayside, but it will be his first as a fully-fledged staffer.
“There’s no way I’d be anywhere else,” he says. “I’ve got other options [but] my choice is rather the Wayside because I’m surrounded by 800 family members, that’s how I feel.”
The Potts Point site is ground zero for the needy on Christmas, and its alfresco Hughes Street party has become the city’s largest such Christmas Day function. After a winter that saw more homeless people on the streets than any winter since 2009, the centre is gearing up for another marathon service.
Between 250 and 300 volunteers will assist in preparing an early breakfast, followed by a sermon by Reverend Graham Long and lunch. The charity’s “donate a plate” initiative has encouraged supporters to sponsor more than 500 meals at a cost of $25 a head; on Wednesday, Mr Holt was busy collecting last-minute donations from local businesses.
While a handful of Wayside volunteers are former guests, the majority are just kind souls who want to lend a hand and escape the constructs of the corporate world, says co-ordinator Lindy Antoniou. “They all say this is their three hours of sanity,” she jokes.
Felicity Powell helps out at Wayside once a week, but on Christmas Day she will bring her husband and two teenage children to wait tables at the big lunch. They’ve done it before and Ms Powell hopes it will remain part of the family’s Christmas routine once her son and daughter are adults.
“There are an awful lot of kids that don’t really get access to seeing what its like first hand for the disadvantaged in Sydney,” the 46-year-old from Mosman says. “It’s really grounding. There are a lot of people who get stuck in the cyber world, they get stuck in their own little lives – it’s really back to reality.”
Slots to volunteer on Christmas Day are opened in mid-November and are so popular there is an online portal to manage the short shifts. Tasks include making tea and coffee, supervising the jumping castle, moving furniture and even the chance to play disc jockey.
But the bountiful resources allow regular volunteers like Bill King, a former addict, to enjoy the day as a guest rather than a worker. For Mr King, 61, Christmas at Wayside is something of a reunion with old chums from the street and the chapel.
“To me, Christmas is for children,” he says. “Being an adult, it should be time to reflect on how your year has been. Did you achieve what your goals have been?”