The lessons learned from charitable work



We students go to school to learn. But one of the best learning experiences for me has happened outside school: helping the less fortunate by serving them food at the Sacred Heart Mission and collecting food necessities for the charity.


From a young age we are encouraged to perceive the less fortunate according to how they dress and how they live, and not by the way that they are. These stereotypes are simply wrong: we are all the same, irrespective of our living situation. It is a false labeling based on status and inequality. No-one should be given a label; often it is simply that people have not been given the opportunity to do the best they can.

Initially, I expected the experience to be a bit bland and perhaps intimidating. There were a number of rules that made me a little nervous, such as to avoid any confrontation with the people being fed, to try not to make a mess and to keep behind the counter.

But I have found the experience to be highly rewarding. We were usually working in a team with employees from large Australian corporations, who were donating their time. They were always very helpful.

The chefs are cheerful and hard working. They know there will be a lot of people to serve. So that no-one will fall over, or tip something, they will always yell the word ‘clear’ so that people knew they could move behind them.

With the people who we are serving – and it is not just homeless people, anyone can be served— there is no in between. They tend to be either very quiet, or very flamboyant.

It is probably that many of the people are not very happy about being in the position they are in, of needing help. My impression is that they either show their true negative emotion or they put up a bit of a wall to conceal their feelings by being positive.

It shows how tough it is to live in such circumstances. To survive psychologically, they need an exceptional degree of resilience. They also need to find people who will not only help them, but who will also be their friend in a crisis.


"Everyone is the same. There may be people in a worse situation, but there will also be people who will show love and compassion to those who need it."


Whoever is helping them should never lose hope in them, or consider them to be a liability. That means there is a lot of responsibility: we are trying to look after human beings who are not entirely able to look after themselves.

In Australia, there is an estimated 2.9 million people who live below the internationally accepted poverty line according to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS). On any given night in Australia, 1 in 200 people is homeless, according to Homelessness Australia.

A 2016 Foodbank Hunger Report says that one in six Australians report having experienced food insecurity in the last 12 months. It found that 43,000 people every month are turned away empty handed from food relief charities because of a lack of food and resources. A third of those going without are children.

Low income families are the most in need of assistance. Foodbank estimates that food supplies need to increase by 29 per cent to fill the gap.

What we students have been doing is making a small difference in meeting this growing problem. It is a rewarding experience and shows me what people are actually like outside my school environment. It has given me some life skills with how to treat people with respect.

Above all, the people who come to the kitchen need to be shown that there are ways to feel happy about yourself, despite your circumstances. Everyone is the same. There may be people in a worse situation, but there will also be people who will show love and compassion to those who need it.



David JamesMariana James-Techera is a student at Star of the Sea College

Topic tags: Mariana James-Techera, charity



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Existing comments

Very good point!
Emily | 19 August 2017

Some excellent reflections here, Mariana. SHM is a reminder that life does not always work out as we might have hoped. I do find it reassuring, however, that so many good people in Melbourne are brought together to offer support and kindness to those down on their luck. As volunteers, we get so much back through our interactions with people on both sides of the kitchen counter.
Chris Pearson | 21 August 2017

'The Less Fortunate' is a label.
Maggie Nell | 21 August 2017

“….and to keep behind the counter.” We are all impoverished by the fact that, on this side of the eternal divide, we communicate primarily by words, from which ‘meaning’ has to be extracted by a receiver who has to contend with his own system of interpretation, rather than by meaning itself. Staying behind a counter is, I suppose, an homage to this and to the oft-cited fact that while eyes and ears are paired, the mouth isn’t.
Roy Chen Yee | 27 August 2017


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