For seven years now Pastor Lew Saunders, with the help of his volunteers, has called into Baker’s Delight and the Port Elliot Bakery three nights a week to pick up the leftover bread.
He takes it back to his South Coast Christian Community Care (SCCCC) office, sorts it out and delivers it among the homeless and needy. It’s the work that teams at the local Baptist Church, Encounter Centre, Salvos, St Vinnies, ADRA and others do too; in this delivery game there is no distinction or denomination, just devotion.
You sense that a lot of despair has worn on to Pastor Lew’s face over the years, but as much as he confirms it has taken its toll he says it doesn’t compare with the look on the faces of kids, and that of their mum and/or dad too when he walks up to the homeless and the needy with a loaf of bread. “They think it’s Christmas every day,” Pastor Lew (pictured) said.
It is at this point where we thank you for continuing to read this story, because many tend to turn the pages when it comes to something concerning the less fortunate; they feel uncomfortable. But given it’s Christmas time, maybe we should all think about others.
Pastor Lew delivers bread to 18 families along the south coast, and there are another 20 that come in on a Tuesday night or Wednesday morning to pick it up.
“The part I do love is delivering the bread and seeing their gratitude,” Pastor Lew said. “I usually go inside with a selection of foods; it’s not just bread, it may be cakes or pies those sort of things. Sometimes kind people give us left over fruit and veg so we add that to families we have been working with.
“In some cases, I have been working with the same families for 18 months or more; every week just popping in. I have seen babies born, kids get married, I have buried parents and buried children out of these relationships because this is my community. I guess I can be a part of bringing them hope into their life; this is what I try to do.
“Up to this year the South Coast Christian Community Care has helped out with Christmas hampers or a food pack as well. If we know that there is family involved we try to put toys or gift cards in according to the ages of the children, but this year because of financial restraints we have stepped back a bit and we will be supporting the Salvation Army, Vinnies and ADRA at Port Elliot with their hampers.
“But that is for a day. There is always Boxing Day, New Year’s day and the long school holidays, so South Coast Christian Community Care this year decided to spend the $4000-odd dollars we used to spend on the Christmas hampers across December, January and February. This way their day-to-day needs are met rather than just spoiling them on Christmas Day with a one-off meal and that’s it. We do not like doing it this way, but financially that’s the way we decided to go.
“To go to a family and say, here’s your bread for Tuesday and Wednesday and have a great Christmas is appreciated by them, but we try to do more; there is a bigger picture and it is not always nice.
“You know, even in these tough times it is remarkable what we as a community can still do. I’m talking about being able to apply the principle of Christmas every day of the year – the importance of giving and sharing.
“The receiving part comes with the look on the faces of the kids; it is so special. In some cases their present is the bread. It is the true spirit of Christmas.
“There was one day prior to Christmas when a shop owner, who wanted to remain nameless, rang and said he had plenty of hot chickens and more in the fridge that were left over, and asked whether I knew any families who would like them. I went over straight away and picked up 14 chickens and took them around to various families.
“It really was Christmas to them, oh yes it was. It wasn’t bread, pies or leftover Kitchener buns, it was real chicken. And they were hot. You could not imagine the reactions; there was a mother who just broke down crying uncontrollably.
“We dropped a grocery parcel around to a lady the other day; there was toilet paper and toothpaste in the pack, not just food. She burst into tears too. She said, we’ve finally got toilet paper again, and I thought, really? In this day and age there is not enough money to afford toilet paper? The little things in life that we take for granted… that rocked my heart.”
Like every situation Pastor Lew deals with, there is no judgement. “Just under the surface is a lot of homeless or risk of homelessness with rising rent plus cost of living and unemployment,” he said. “On top of this, there are breakdowns in relationships making it all pretty difficult for people to maintain a lifestyle they were used to.
“I would say it’s about 50-50 when it comes to whether the situation is largely their own fault, but it is not for me to judge. Some of it is drug related, unemployment, choices of lifestyle. Some of it simply just happens; rents go up, the landlord doesn’t want to renew a lease for whatever reason, you can’t find affordable accommodation even for a week or a month; you become homeless.
“Each case is individual and there are so many slants and stories. We are seeing a lot more of it.
“It still concerns me most when children are involved. In 2014 we did a survey for March across the south coast and we identified there were 144 homeless people, and of them 52 were children under the age of 12. That’s just us; the other organisations would know of a lot of others.
“As a father and grandfather that rips my heart out, and whether they be single mums or single dads or married couples where they had a situation that in the month of March, it is frightening.”
The plight of the homeless and the needy is a far cry from the cows he milked at Macclesfield for 22 years in his early days before walking into a church for no particular reason and realising he could use his psychology studies to help the youth and those with homelessness issues.
If you would like to drop off pantry food or grocery items, or perhaps make a tax deductible donation, the SCCCC’s distribution point is the Church of Christ office in Seaview Road, Victor Harbor, and from the Open Door at the Goolwa Uniting Church, in Collingwood Street.
Come Christmas Day, Pastor Lew will conduct a one-hour service and then go home and be surrounded by his family.
“But every minute of the day I will be mindful there are people in our church who may not have anywhere to go, so they will probably be at our place too,” he added. “That’s how we operate. Merry Christmas.”
And Merry Christmas to Pastor Lew, and especially the gems at Baker’s Delight and the Port Elliot Bakery, who share their Christmas spirit every day.