By Mikayla van Loon
Christmas is a time of festivities, family and friends but for the most vulnerable groups in our community it can be a time of loneliness and disconnection.
For the last six years, Holy Fools CEO Neal Taylor has worked with other groups in Lilydale and surrounding areas to host a Christmas Day lunch for those who are homeless or have nowhere else to go.
But the ability to host this community meal relies on the financial position of charity organisations like Holy Fools.
“There’s no shortage of food donations that we’ve received and clothing and things like that. Financially though, we are probably down close to about 50 to 60 per cent of what we normally get,” Mr Taylor said.
While those funds don’t directly go to the Christmas lunch alone, it does pay rent, as well as expenses of transport including fuel costs and van upkeep and it replaces equipment to host events like the lunch.
Apart from the lunch itself, Holy Fools also puts together hampers to be handed out to people and different organisations in the area.
“Christmas in particular is a really expensive time. Besides the massive amount of organisation that goes into doing it there’s a lot of expenses from buying the boxes for the hampers to organising the the hamper packing and providing lunch for everyone and things like that.
“We found that with Covid, the community has been fantastic at giving us things like food, donations and clothing but the financial side of things have really struggled.”
In the lead up to Christmas, Mr Taylor is hoping to raise $20,000 which will see the not-for-profit through the festive season and into the first few months of 2022.
“We find at the beginning of the year, the period around January and February is financially the quietest time of the year for us,” he said.
“If we can raise a little bit of money now for that period of time, that’ll help us carry through, until things start picking up again usually around March.”
Knowing that during the pandemic people have been financially strained themselves, Mr Taylor is working to put things in place so that Holy Fools doesn’t have to rely on monetary donations as heavily in the future.
Although right now the focus is on raising money, Mr Taylor said items for the food hampers will need to be collected in coming weeks as well.
“Last year we had a fantastic response from the community and they gave us all the grocery items to help us pack over 200 hampers,” he said.
Everything from tinned fruit to coffee and cereal, even some sweet treats were packaged into boxes and handed out.
All 200 hampers were gone in a flash last year, so Mr Taylor said they are hoping to increase the hampers to 250 this year.
“We ran out really quickly last year. We handed it out to everyone that came to our Christmas lunch and we also shared it with other organisations that aren’t always able to do the same thing that we do.”
The Christmas lunch is about providing connection to people who may not have family or friends to share it with.
Mr Taylor said there are some people who go to the Holy Fools Street Angels lunch every Wednesday and others who are just regulars on Christmas Day.
“One thing we know is that there are lots of people who are lonely. There are lots of people who might not have any family or friends that will come to our lunch.
“And they’ll just get the sense of community and fellowship with each other, as well as enjoying a really good meal, they get to hang out with people and talk to people.”
Donations to help support the Christmas lunch can be made through the Holy Fools website https://www.holyfools.org.au/donate/.
“We’re over 12 years old now and we really rely on the general public and for us to make an impact as we have done, has really been around because of the community supporting us,” Mr Taylor said.
“I know it’s tough for everyone at the moment and I just ask them to remember us and also know that we’re helping people who are a lot more disadvantaged than they are, there’s a lot more people worse off than they are.
“And particularly Covid has knocked a lot of people around and I just want people to realise that without organizations like ourselves, there’s going to be chaos around.”