Christmas is a special time for families. It’s a time when we hold our loved ones close. I’m sure you know what I mean – that sense of belonging and the feeling of being loved. That’s why I want to thank you especially. Your support at Christmas means my Exodus Foundation becomes a loving family for thousands of desperately needy Sydneysiders. Without you, they’d have nothing.
This Christmas we’ll serve up to 3,000 hot lunches with all the trimmings to the poor and homeless. The support you’ve shown me over the years makes it all possible. In fact, when I first arrived at Ashfield Uniting Church thirty years ago the elderly ladies in the congregation thought I was mad to even consider a Christmas lunch for the poor. They said: “People spend Christmas with their families. That’s what everybody does.”
My earlier experience in Kings Cross taught me that heaps of people simply didn’t have families. I knew we could do something for them. So that Christmas one Elder gave me two plates of sandwiches. They were lovingly cut diagonally into quarters.
On Christmas Day I threw open the doors to our church hall and two lonely people came and shared the sandwiches. The next year 13 people turned up. We ran out of food and had to race up the street to buy an extra chook! Two years later 400 lonely people shared Christmas lunch with us! My vision of The Exodus Foundation being a family for those who had none at Christmas was becoming a reality.
We all need each other. As social researcher Hugh MacKay says ‘we are the reflection we see in the eyes of others’. That’s why community and family matter. Sadly, families today are more fractured than ever. That’s why my Exodus Foundation’s Christmas Day lunch is so important.
The homeless, poor and needy people we help each day begin looking forward to our Christmas lunch weeks before the big day. You can actually feel it in the air. Jane is one of our guests and she dresses up in red with a Santa hat and shouts “Ho Ho Ho” to everyone who turns up! All our guests know that no matter how alone they are, they have a family at The Exodus Foundation.
When Christmas Day finally arrives the poor and lonely begin queuing early. In fact the line often stretches down Liverpool Road even before we open the doors. The team in our kitchen will have prepared over 50 hams and 70 turkeys to feed them all.
What really makes Christmas day at The Exodus Foundation so great is the loving kindness on display. I see it in the way our homeless guests treat George. He’s one of their own – a rough sleeper. George is elderly, frail and disabled, but his homeless mates lovingly help him to his seat and make sure he gets his meal first. It’s just like a family.
Our homeless guests are wonderfully giving. Last year a poor, single mum named Emily turn up with her daughters. They had nothing, yet more than one homeless guest said to her, ‘Here, love, take the free gift card I’ve been given and spend it on your daughters’. Her eyes showed the gratitude in her unspoken reply.
Sometimes the things I see at our Exodus Foundation Christmas Day lunch move me to tears. Like the man with no arms who was lovingly fed by two of our volunteer ladies, spooning food gently into his mouth. He rewarded them by telling jokes as they tittered into their hankies!
On Christmas Day I always keep a special look out for those who are so bruised by life that they’re afraid to join in. Often they’ll sit outside and just watch what’s going on. I make a point of going over and bringing them in. There are often tears in their eyes as they realise they can be a part of it. They realise that even if it’s just for this one day, they have a family.
Every one of the thousands of needy people who share our Exodus Foundation Christmas lunch has a story. Like the darling little girl who lost her father during the year finding father-figures among our homeless guests. Like the man whose wife had died but found new love at our Christmas lunch, and like the homeless kids who find a new family in our staff and volunteers. I see it happen year after year and I’m humbled by it.
I often think that the loving compassion on display at The Exodus Foundation on Christmas Day is enough to make Heaven sing! I’m sure you’d agree that no matter who we are, we’re all connected. We can all be everyone else’s family – especially at Christmas.
This year we look set to have our biggest Christmas lunch ever because more and more Sydneysiders are struggling to make ends meet. There are more rough sleepers. There are more battlers. There are more lonely people. They all find a caring family waiting with open arms at my Exodus Foundation.
On Christmas Day at The Exodus Foundation every guest will get a traditional hot lunch with ham, turkey and pudding. There will be fun, entertainment, singing and laughter. And everybody will get a present from Santa too – often it’s the only gift they’ll receive.
Most importantly there will be a comforting sense of family for those who have no one else. There’ll be warm hearts and open arms to welcome the homeless, the poor and the lonely.
All this can only happen with your generous financial donation. Without your support the poor, homeless and the lonely would go without. I want to thank you for your donation in the past and ask that you donate again today. Your kind gift will bring family and love to those who have none this Christmas Day.
Rev. Bill Crews.