On the 20th of June the 300 Blankets team were invited on a special St Vincent de Paul soup van run. On the night, Vinnies organised a special van to drive our team on their nightly soup run. Before we set off, the President of the St Vincent de Paul Victoria Soup Vans, Br. Doug, presented us with a certificate of appreciation. In return, I presented St Vincent de Paul with the first of the blankets raised from our fundraising efforts. This was the start of what turned out to be a very emotional night for the entire team.
Since the beginning of our volunteer initiative, the team and everyone involved knew what we were doing – to raise money and play our part in keeping the homeless community warm. We knew from our countless conversations with people working for the homeless that blankets is crucial in winter and there is never enough. But the night we volunteered with Vinnies completely changed the perception of our work and the purpose of our efforts.
On this particular night, we followed the Fitzroy soup vans, making seven stops across the Melbourne CBD. The main aim for the night was to learn more and see first hand the amazing work Vinnies do every night. We were given the opportunity to also meet the people living rough and personally present the blankets to the people who need it the most. With 72 blankets in the van, we thought we would be comfortable in handing them out on the night.
At the first stop, we met people living in parklands. I met and spoke to many people and admittedly to my shock, many people I could personally relate to. People who had similar journeys to Australia as my parents. It was hard to not be emotional.
The night continued and at each stop, stories about individual lives and how people got to situations where they are now flooded in. Everyone was so eager to have an opportunity to share their personal stories. And this was our biggest learning of the night – there is more to being homeless than the loss of physical possessions. Being homeless is not just about not having a permanent place to stay. It’s not even just about having a roof above one’s head. It’s the loss of the support and care of family and friends that affect people the most.
We personally handed out 56 blankets on the night, but what we gained most was being trusted and having people open their hearts to us. One of the most memorable parts of the night was when Amanda spoke to a lady at one of the stops. After an emotional conversation, Amanda hugged the lady which brought both to tears. One of the leading Vinnies volunteers told us that, that hug was worth more than any blanket, any material item we could have given her. We gave her the warmth of genuine care and compassion.
Our learnings from the night has sparked a greater motivation for all of us at 300 Blankets – to work harder and strive to make a bigger difference in our community.
Let’s keep our community warm!