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Giving those in need a hand


Most Wednesday mornings will see Gerry McCarthy and Pat Patience out and about in their neighbourhood, visiting men, women, families – young and old – who need a ‘hand up’ to get back on their feet.

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As long-term volunteers for the Vinnies conference based at the Greenacres/Walkerville parish, Gerry and Pat have witnessed and heard a plethora of stories of people’s hardships and struggles. It’s often a sobering reminder for them that they are “there but for the grace of God”.

“When I first started visiting I realised how easy it can be for someone to end up in that position where they need help,” Gerry told The Southern Cross.

“You only have to lose your job and not be able to get a job for six months, and you still have to keep paying your mortgage.

“The heartbreaking thing is when you visit someone and you realise you can’t really help them as much as you want – you can give them food, some vouchers but sometimes there are so many situations going on in their life you really can’t fix the problems.”

Gerry, a former primary school teacher, began volunteering with Vinnies when he retired more than a decade ago.

He devotes a lot of time to helping Vinnies and other activities at St Martin’s Church, and said volunteering was a wonderful way to nourish his faith.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from working with other people and working with our conference members,” he said.

“Every Wednesday after we finish our visits we have a debrief and generally we say, that was a good morning – we helped a lot of people and that is always rewarding.”

The Walkerville/Greenacres conference has just over 10 active members who visit companions (people assisted by Vinnies) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The support they provide includes food hampers, Vinnies shop vouchers, Metro cards, vouchers for supermarkets and other forms of assistance. Some of the more unusual requests include organising a glazier to fix a window, buying a pair of shoes for a secondary student and purchasing safety gear for someone about to start a new job.

At Christmas they prepare large hampers of donated goods which are delivered to families in need.

Pat said the level of support they were able to provide was only possible because of the “amazing” generosity of parishioners, the two parish schools – St Martin’s and St Monica’s – as well as from Vale Park Primary School and parish priest Fr Kym Spurling.

“It’s a great privilege to be able to help these people and it is only with the support our parishioners and schools give that we can be so generous towards them,” she said.

“We have a lady who makes beautiful rugs that we take out, another lady who makes care packages for kids – she’s not in our conference but just does it… and one little boy was so excited to get a Sponge Bob Square Pants toothbrush!

“There are mansions around here but then there are the laneways, where there are enclaves of people who are poor and really struggling.”

Gerry added there also were families living in the suburbs finding it tough as they were paying “enormous” rental costs.

“Even if they have a job they are struggling to look after their kids because the rent is so high.”

Among those they visit are women and children who have escaped domestic violence and are receiving assistance to live in motels in the area. During COVID the number of visits made by the conference to these motels almost doubled, and figures for this year are tracking much the same.

“We’ve had a number who we have visited in local motels and they are often homeless or domestic violence victims and they have nowhere else to go. They are generally in dire straits, often with children,” Gerry said.

“Other companions we visit are people who really just want someone to talk to and we’re one of the few outlets able to do that.”

President of the Walkerville/Greenacres conference, Sharon Quinn, said a large number of their companions had mental health and drug issues.

With the onset of winter and people now back on the lower JobSeeker allowance, the conference is expecting an increase in demand for its services.

“We remind them that it’s not a hand out, but we’re giving a hand up,” she said.

“Going out on the visits it makes you think about your own life and how lucky you are. We could have all been in the same situation… there but for the grace of God.”


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