You have heard it so many times before. Sponsor a child. Save the world. Donate blood… leave your mark on the world and do your bit for the health of human kind. But do you actually do anything about it? Candice Rose tries a little harder this month.
In the early hours of 2009 I was looking for a New Year’s Resolution that didn’t involve ‘joining the gym’. Something I could stick to … something uplifting. Come February, I was still dwelling on an unachieved resolution; I had curbed some of my little white lies and managed a measly exercise regime here and there, but that’s hardly being a better person?
I was looking for a concept that struck me, that was accessible in the Port Macquarie region and one that I knew would educate and inspire me. And so I chose to donate blood and do some volunteer work this month – hardly earth shattering, but contributions that I hadn’t properly explored in my lifetime. Before I knew it I had picked up the phone and booked in to volunteer at the soup kitchen with Sister Marjorie and donate blood at the Clarence Street clinic.
But hold on. Those who know me know that I am the girl who cringes at the sight of blood and spends her weekends throwing BBQs – not giving out food to strangers for free! As soon as I began to doubt myself, that’s when I knew that this was the right resolution for me. Now, I’m no Bono, but I was going to try to do my bit.
Nurse Christine and Nurse Linda are feeling around for a thick, fat vein in my arm. Their smiling faces and soothing voices ease me into the idea that I am donating 470 ml of my own blood today. Marketing manager of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service in Port Macquarie, John Bain, assures me that my donation will go further than I think.
“Your 470 ml will save three lives today.”
“You’re O negative too. You have what they call ‘universal blood’ – you’re compatible with every other blood type. A very special patient. Statistically, 71% of Australians make up the two most common types: O positive and A positive. 9% of Australians make up O negative. You’re in demand,” John adds.
“It’s not just O negative – all blood types are in constant need. December 08 and January 09 have been our best months in a long time – both the tourists and locals were great to the Red Cross. Without the donors, it would be hard for everyone,” John says.
I peer out to the waiting room to see a labourer who had just knocked off work, a middle aged mum and a couple of teenage girls still clad in school uniforms. A whole variety of people have come here today to make a donation, young and old. I thought that was pretty ‘A positive’.
“We are the biggest clinic between Newcastle and the Gold Coast.”
And it is quite a luxurious centre. The decor screams more funk modern than scary and sterile. Ten beds are set up in a round – comfortable and perfectly positioned to view the plasma TV. Ooo, Dr Phil is on.
The nurses are careful to include me in the whole process, reminding me of how grateful they are for my donation. After a few prods to the arm, blood comes rushing out like rain, but as red as wine. Within ten minutes, I’m up and out. Nurse Linda shows me my donation bag, and informs me that the courier will be there later tonight to pick them up and take them to Sydney.
I shuffle my way through to the café area, where a silver haired lady offers me a pie and a Mars Bar. Of course I accept … I don’t want to feel dizzy now, do I?
John sees me out, and I say thanks for his help, to which he replied: “I didn’t do anything; it was you who helped today.”
The following Monday, I had arranged to meet with Sister Marjorie and find out more about Port’s very own soup kitchen. Hosted at the Catholic Mens Club in the CBD, I followed the scented trail of chicken soup up through Horton Street and was greeted by friendly faces as I walked into the hall.
The kitchen was established by Sister Marjorie nine years ago, and today around 130 people pass through the doors each Monday.
Sister tells me that it was originally her mission to provide a shelter for the 750* or so homeless people in Port Macquarie; however, she received little support. With help from several charity foundations, she received the funding to begin a soup kitchen. Every Saturday, Sister also co-ordinates a profitable op shop business, which helps to keep the kitchen doors open.
“I love what we have built here. This is a place of non judgement. A place for people to feel welcome and warm. We have a permanent volunteer staff of twenty, and they are all wonderful,” Sister says.
And she is right. The volunteers here come from all walks of life; there is a mother of four, clearing tables with a toddler on her hip. There is Jim, a talkative and friendly man who doubles as security. Robert is the head cook responsible for the preparation and ordering of meat and vegetables. And ‘Stewie’, an ex-con gone good, after nearly completing his 600 hours of community service, can credit this not for profit organisation to his much happier outlook on life.
And of course, the soup kitchen patrons are just as interesting.
“Many people come here because they are homeless. Sleeping in their cars. They can’t manage. Some, because they like the food. And others, just for the social interaction. No matter who you are, all are welcome under this roof,” Sister says.
Merrilyn has been coming to the kitchen for two years and says she “looks forward to seeing the volunteers every week”.
Heavily pregnant with her second child, her enthusiasm radiates around the room.
“The baby is due on a Friday. I’ll be in and out of the hospital and down for lunch on Monday, to show off bub to the ladies.”
For Merrilyn, this isn’t just her appetite; it’s her family circle.
Just like the rest of the volunteers, I snap on my latex gloves and start to get into the swing of things. What will I be serving up today? Sausages, buttery mashed potato, peas and carrots, and sweet and sour chicken! Tea, coffee and iced cordial. Chocolate pudding, and freshly homemade apple and custard crumble brought in by one of the lovely ladies. And cakes … breads and cakes galore! It’s impressive to hear that the local bakeries and butchers donate a lot of their inventory to the cause.
“Where else can you get a three course meal for free in Port Macquarie?” Jim asks me.
“People are grateful that they have food in their stomachs, and that makes it all worth while. There was even a woman who came in after hearing about the soup kitchen, sat down and asked for a menu!” he laughs. “We all do our best”.
Recently, a volunteer named Sandra made a speech at an Australian Labour Party conference on the subject of the soup kitchen, and received a $2,500 grant with thanks to NSW Community Services Minister, Linda Burney.
“That was such a great surprise. Linda and Sandra were fantastic, and the grant will go a long way,” Sister says.
One thing that all volunteers and visitors have in common here is the love for Sister Marjorie. Not only because she is the founder of the soup kitchen, but because she keeps it alive with an open heart.
“This kitchen is here because of her efforts. She the most beautiful, loveliest person I know,” Jim says.
She sees me out, and I thank her for the experience. I walk away from the kitchen knowing that this is an organisation that needs the support of its community to stand on strong legs – a foundation that needs to survive in an economic climate where times are tough not only for the poor, but for the rich as well.
So I went out on a limb and did something a little different this month, and although small, I hope my contributions can become habitual throughout my time. It’s the people like John Bain, Nurse Linda, Nurse Christine, Sister Marjorie and her volunteers who truly deserve accolades. They are the volunteers who help to keep the world a healthier place … and what’s even better is that they exist in our own community.
2009 is the 80th year of blood donation. Book into your nearest clinic today and help save lives. The Port Macquarie clinic at 6 Clarence Street is open five days a week and now on Saturdays. Book an appointment on 13 14 95.
The Soup Kitchen is open Mondays and held at the Catholic Mens Club in Horton Street.
St Thomas Soup Kitchen – Wednesdays 11am – 1.15pm St Thomas’ Hall Cnr Murray & Williams St. Port Macquarie. Call 6583 1024 for volunteer and/or visiting enquiries.
* Figure is an estimate.