Gethsemane Community Inc has reached out to people with disabilities who are lonely and socially isolated at Christmas since 1994. Stimulated by awareness of the poverty of residents of boarding houses, we packed gift bags of toiletries, socks, underwear and lollies for hundreds of people each year. As reforms took effect, their situation improved, though they remained poor and lonely. We followed former residents to group homes and aged care facilities. Along the way we added other aged care residents who had no family contact. That data base now stands at 960 and all receive a gift bag of toiletries, socks and lollies.

A coded program, which safeguards privacy, allows parishes and schools to send Christmas cards to these people, with each person receiving about 10 cards. Most of them never receive personal mail.

Some years ago, I was visited by a nurse from a team which looks after people with complex mental health issues. She told me that the previous Christmas she had been so worried about the poverty of her clients that she bought a case of mangoes and gave one to each person, so they had something to wake up to on Christmas Day. I thought we could do better than that.

This year, we will prepare hampers for 460 clients of mental health and drug treatment teams around the Inner West of Sydney. We provide enough general food to cover meals for three days: tins of ham, chicken, tuna, salmon, mushrooms in butter sauce, baked beans, spaghetti, then tea, coffee and cracker biscuits. Festive food such as mini Christmas puddings and cakes, long-life cream and fruit in juice is added. A calendar for clients to record medical and Centrelink appointments and a gift of aftershave for men and perfume for women goes on top.

Medical teams collect the hampers and give them to clients just before Christmas. Lonely people are able to celebrate Christmas with the rest of us.

On Christmas Day, we welcome 60-70 people with disabilities to Christmas lunch here. It is a fun time. The invitations say 11am, but people start drifting in by 10am. Some people have been coming to this celebration for many years, and they sit down with others they have come to know here. Early birds start on drinks and nibbles. A bus arrives with 30 residents from a local boarding house and the tables set up under our carport start to fill up. More arrive from group homes all around the area.

Some start to get restless and want lunch, so we start serving the main course, even as others start on nibbles. One man wants to remain on the nature strip so he can have his bourbon with the meal. Some are ready for dessert, so plates are taken to them. When all are finished, it is time for presents. Gift bags are distributed and contents compared. Some guests stand up and start walking down the drive. By 1pm, it is over for another year.

View the Gethsemane Community website

Visit the World Food Day website

Myree Harris rsj

Image provided by Sr Myree Harris. Used with permission.