Christmas is surely the most sentimental day of the year.
Valentine’s Day puts up a good fight. But the word ‘Christmas’ brings to mind the lighthearted and the picturesque. A Google search produces countless dimly lit living rooms. Packed stockings overhang a cosy fireplace and a brightly lit Christmas tree shelters stacks of perfectly wrapped presents.
But, for so many, that’s not what Christmas looks like.
For Australia’s disadvantaged, even the essentials are a precious gift. Forget abundance and sentiment; you can’t put up a Christmas tree if you don’t have a place to call home.
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But for many on Christmas Day, Mission Australia provides exactly that.
Every year, around 1500 people celebrate Christmas Lunch in the Park (CLIP). Hundreds of volunteers host a feast and Perth’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people receive a meal, companionship, entertainment, care packs and vital support services. This year, the 47th year of CLIP, the event will hit a milestone of 70,000 meals provided.
In her fifth year as a volunteer Table Host, Lynn Coates says CLIP gives her, as well as the guests, “the best feeling in the world.”
“Without exception, all the table guests interact with animated conversation, fun and laughter, while tucking into the most incredible luncheon. We all learn so much about each other, with conversations overlapping the next, so freely offered and received. Everyone has a story.”
The most precious thing that CLIP guests receive is genuine care. As Lynn puts it, “the gift of offering time multiplies itself when one shows avid interest and offers a listening ear.”
She recalls when, in 2020, a guest named Allen received an unusual Christmas gift. “Allen said he would like a haircut and was guided to the wellness area, returning a short while later looking very proud of his dashing new look.”
“People don’t walk around you but are willing to sit down with you and share a meal – and that’s a big thing when you are homeless.” – Dug Tassi-e
Back in 2014, Dugarme ‘Dug’ Tassi-e attended his first CLIP. At the time Dug was sleeping rough and was grateful to be fed for several days with the leftovers.
Even more profoundly, the event provided Dug a place to connect with people, particularly people who were “travelling the same path”.
“Christmas Lunch in the Park connects us in our humanity,” he said. “It’s the one day when people don’t walk around you but instead are willing to sit down with you and share a meal – and that’s a big thing when you are homeless.”
No longer homeless after years of adversity, Dug was welcomed back to CLIP in 2017 as its first ‘ambassador’.
“For me,” he reflected, “it’s a way to show thanks to those who were there in the dark days of my homelessness and who have been part of my recovery. It’s also a way to show those currently experiencing homelessness what can be achieved when we give and receive.”
The event is a beautiful example of embracing the downtrodden, the way Jesus embraces us in our lowliness. Lynn sees this as “an honour and a privilege – an ideal opportunity not only to extend the hand of friendship but also to demonstrate unconditional kindness and compassion.”
Lynn thinks CLIP is a gift to her as well. “Not only is the personal experience fulfilling, but it pulls at the heartstrings and makes them sing. We get back so much more than we give!
“I would encourage like-minded folk to join in the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ, sharing and caring, giving time to be with those less fortunate than themselves.”
Christmas Lunch in the Park takes place on 25 December in Wellington Square, East Perth. For more information, or if you would like to donate a plate, volunteer to help or sponsor the event, click here.