It’s late at night as I write this from my desk at The Exodus Foundation and it’s getting cold. I’m sure you’ve felt it and that means the homeless have too. But as winter looms I wanted to share some good news with you. It’s a story about how you make the lives of so many poverty-stricken Aussies better, every day.

I’ve just returned from our mobile food van in the city where we give hot dinners to the homeless. Every night, no matter what the weather, we park our van in Yurong Street behind the Domain and serve healthy meals to hundreds of homeless Australians.

Tonight it was raining, but the council won’t let us erect any shelter. So I huddled under an umbrella with one of our hungry guests. As she ate I could see she was warming up. To see it made me feel good.

The people who eat at our mobile food van are among the poorest of all Australians. On a cold, wet night like this it must make a difference to know that someone cares enough to give you a feed. I’m sure you agree that in our lucky country everyone deserves a hot meal and compassion on a cold winter night. You help make this happen.

We start early at The Exodus Foundation

Even though I get up early every morning I’m rarely the first person to arrive here at my Exodus Foundation in Ashfield. The homeless begin queueing in the cold for breakfast before it’s even light! I’m always welcomed by a bright “G’day Billy!” no matter how cold or miserable the winter weather.

This morning I saw Matthew in the darkness. He’s been homeless for many years and today he’d come for a shower. I walked him in and gave him a fresh towel and some soap – it’s the simple things like this that often mean the most. It wasn’t long before half-a-dozen other homeless people were patiently lined up for a hot shower too. As the steam rose to the heavens and the sky filled with morning light our Exodus Foundation volunteers arrived. I like to call them our Exodus angels! Their enthusiasm is inspiring. Pretty soon they’d got breakfast prepared in our famous Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant – today it was eggs on toast and baked beans, washed down with plenty of tea and coffee.

I wandered in and sat with Matthew, who by now had enjoyed his first meal since lunchtime the day before. Over coffee he told me about the daily challenges he endures. I could see the pain etched on his face. I could feel his pain. As Matthew and I talked I thought about how glad I was to have supporters like you. Your gifts really do bring hope, kindness and compassion to Australians who desperately need it – and our guests appreciate it; they tell me so! By the end of breakfast this morning we served at least two hundred meals.

Breakfast is just the beginning

At The Exodus Foundation we’ve got a purpose-built health and wellbeing centre for the homeless. This morning our dentist was there to see as many of our guests as she could. Often their teeth are so bad we’d have to puree their food so they could sip it. In fact, the typical guest needs seven extractions and eight fillings. It’s a big job, but our dentist loves her work!

In the room next door there was a young mum with two kids. She was in dire straights and talking to one of our counsellors. She couldn’t afford to turn on the heating and struggled to buy food to feed the children. We were able to help! We gave her an electricity voucher and an emergency food parcel with basics like pasta and tinned food. Its good to know her kids won’t be cold or hungry tonight.

Our food parcels have the sort of products that can be eaten cold, since most of our guests either live outdoors or can’t afford electricity. The tins need ring-pulls because guests don’t own a tin opener. They need pictures too, since a lot of our guests can’t read. These food parcels make a huge difference and as power bills keep rising they’re a lifeline for more and more families and pensioners.

By mid-morning there’s always a lot of clanging coming from our kitchen. It’s a busy time. When I popped my head in today our food services manager Allan was cooking lunch. He’s transformed our kitchen. We now have a healthy eating program to ensure the guests in our Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant get the best possible nutrition as 83% of them have two or more chronic illnesses.

Then the ambulance came

It saddens me to tell you this, but this morning one of our guests suffered a seizure. His name is Joe. The ambulance came and I went with him to the hospital – he had no other family. As I held Joe’s hand I thought of all the homeless like him whose hands I’ve held as we rushed off to hospital. In my mind’s eye I remember those I’ve had to farewell too. For so many of our guests I am their next-of-kin and I treat that responsibility very seriously. Thankfully, Joe is going to be ok.

By the time I got back to The Exodus Foundation lunch was almost underway. It wasn’t long before the front door to the Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant was swung open once again. This year I’ve noticed increasing numbers of families eating here – mum, dad and the children. I’ve noticed more working poor are eating here too – people who have work but not enough to survive. My managers and I are very concerned about this phenomenon which we believe is a problem that is going to get worse.

Today I sat and talked with our guests as they ate lunch. I like to do this as often as I can so I understand their needs. There is always a wonderful sense of community here and our dedicated staff and volunteers work together to ensure everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

This afternoon our volunteer doctor paid us a visit. He came to give the poor and the homeless their annual flu shot. This quite literally saves lives!

Before we started giving flu vaccinations the homeless would often die of pneumonia in winter and I would conduct their funerals. The good news is that since starting our flu vaccine program we haven’t lost a single guest to pneumonia.

It all happens because of you

I think this symbolises what your support enables us to achieve. Australians in poverty need us, and everything I’ve told you in this letter shows how we’re making their future better every day. I am sure you realise that none of this could happen without the dedicated support of loyal and kind-hearted donors like you. I take the trust you place in me and my team seriously. So much so that the efficiency of our operation means for every $1 you donate we give $1.60 worth of services.

As you read this letter I’m sure you can feel that winter is on its way. The cold is extra bitter when you have nothing, but together we can spare struggling Australians the worst of it. If you gave $165 it can provide meals for a homeless person for a month. $495 can feed them for the whole winter!

Everyone deserves a hot meal and compassion this winter. Please show you support me with a tax deductible donation today. The situation is urgent, so I’d be very grateful if you’d act now.

God Bless

Rev. Bill Crews

P.S. Send your donation by 30 June 2017 to claim your deduction on this year’s tax.