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Brenda grateful for 25 ‘wonderful’ years at meal centre

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Brenda McCulloch might be retiring after 25 years as the cook at Hutt St Centre but there’s a good chance she will be staying closely connected to the place and the people.

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“I think you get a secret injection when you start here, something gets in your blood and it’s in you for life – you can’t cut the umbilical cord,” Brenda told The Southern Cross.

While chief executive Ian Cox has promised her she can do “anything I like”, Brenda said she would definitely like to keep in contact with clients and perhaps do school talks or ambassador roles as well as help with some of the programs as a volunteer.

“I really feel that I have been part of a great team for 25 years,” she said.

“It’s not just about me, it’s an amazing place and I have been privileged to work here.

“When I left Scotland and came to Australia I thought I’d make my way as a cook but to be able to repay Australia for accepting me and letting me live here, I am really grateful for that.”

Brenda’s passion for the Hutt St Centre is matched by her pride in how it has grown – from seven to 72 staff – since she started and yet has still retained “the vibe and the ethos”.

“Somehow we choose the right people,” she said.

“Ian is always looking at how we can improve our services – I’m really proud that I have spent 25 wonderful years at a place that makes such a difference to so many lives.”

She said the job had changed her understanding of what it meant to be homeless.

“You won’t ever hear me say negative things about the clients,” she said.

“The perception that people have is all wrong, you can’t judge a book by its cover…no matter what predicament they’re in, they still give you a laugh and help each other.

“The homeless are the invisible people; the Centrelink payment hasn’t gone up for 20 years, the waiting list for public housing is incredibly long, jobs are disappearing as companies cut staff, it’s pretty bleak so Hutt St Centre is a place where they can walk through our doors and we are going to do everything we can to help them get back on their feet.”

Brenda said her way of showing respect was in the quality of meals prepared and when a client told her recently that her pork chops and salsa were “quietly magnificent” she took it as a “huge compliment”.

“I feel really proud,” she said. “Food is the first reason for people coming in, hunger is a big part of their day.

“As the cook I’ve been able to build relationships with people and have a conversation with them – sometimes I encourage them to go and see the day centre and hook up with a social worker.”

With no government funding for the meal centre, Brenda praised the generosity of the “Angels for a Day” donors and said she had worked alongside people from premiers to corporate leaders and school students.

Similarly she said she had been inspired from the beginning by the volunteers at the centre, who she described as “caring and compassionate people”.

“Some have been here for over 30 years, they don’t want to leave, I have seen volunteers build relationships together – if someone is missing the others want to know if they are alright.”

With her 66th birthday this month, Brenda said it was time to retire on July 5 to have an “easier life but not forget the plight of others”.

“I’ll just be grateful when the alarm doesn’t go off at 4.10am,” she laughed.

As in previous years, Brenda will be participating in the Hutt St Centre Walk a Mile in My Boots on Friday August 9 in the organisation’s 65th year of operation.

For more information, visit www.huttstcentre.org.au

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