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Season for giving

Think Local

When you think about Christmas what springs to mind? It may be Christmas morning when the family bee-lines for the Christmas tree to see what Santa has left in the stockings, or maybe evenings spent carolling. It could also be mass at your local church or the big family lunch.

Unfortunately there are many here on the peninsula that don't have those fond memories to draw on. They’ve been deprived of the family-oriented festive season, full of bon-bons reindeer antlers and tinsel.

Although most of us smile and get that warm and fuzzy feeling when we see houses adorned with multicoloured lights and snowmen holding candy canes - it can have the opposite effect for those who don't have loved ones to share it with.

This is something that a number of people on the peninsula are only too aware of, and they selflessly go out of their way to make the lonely less lonely.

Peninsula Living visits St John's Anglican Parish in Dee Why to speak with the founders and annual organisers of the parish's Christmas Day lunch.

Lynette Johnson came up with the idea six years ago, when her kids were spending Christmas at their respective in-laws places.

"We could've gone to a restaurant or we could've had people around to our place but we thought because we had our beautiful home here, this is our home as well, why not come here and open the doors to people who don't have anywhere to go," she explains.

Her passion has only grown for the cause, which sees anyone from the homeless to lonely backpackers come together for a Christmas banquet, drinks and socializing.

“Well it‘s now at a point where we get our turn with the grandchildren every Six years, but when they come they know they can‘t see Grandma until after 4pm...our family knows how important this is."

Bev Bingham thought it was a great Idea too and has been by Lynette's side every year since.

"It's a lot of work but it's really great to do something for the community and give something back“ she tells Peninsula Living.

As the ladies and Father Steven Salmon explain, the actual lunch is only a small part, it‘s really about the companionship.

"I don‘t think people do [realise how many people on the Northern Beaches are actually in need], a lot of people can think everybody's OK and affluent but they're not. Or everyone has somebody, it‘s not just about not having the money, it's the loneliness, that's the hardest and it exacerbates at Christmas time and there are so many people that do live alone,” Ms Johnson explains.

Father Salmon nods. “A lot of homeless people or people who are on the edge have mental illness and that is very isolating,“ he says.

“lt's very hard to make friends and very hard to keep friends,so it's very important for them to have an opportunity to be a welcome guest and know that people will treat you with respect.

"it just brings the community together, I mean I had a young homeless man spot the [Warringah] mayor Michael Regan one year, and he was so excited and said to me 'I'm having lunch with the mayor!'."

Ms Johnson explains that many people ring up to offer their help on the day, but by the end of the conversation she realises that they are in fact alone and looking to be around people. Then of course there are also those who simply want to be charitable.

"It really does bring out the best in people," says Ms Bingham.

"We have so many people who are not members of the parish and have nothing to do with this church come just to help, like Ron the butcher who spends all Christmas morning cutting up the hams and the turkeys and his wife and sons come and wash up afterwards.

"Harry at Aces Chicken cooks us fresh chickens and potatoes on Christmas morning and cuts it all up for us, all without charge. We are always overwhelmed by the response from the community.”

There are families doing it tough too, particularly at this time of year, and fortunately the Salvation Army continues to provide huge support locally.

For the last three years, Katrina Horsley has been volunteering with the Manly Salvation Army packing and distributing toy and food hampers for families on the Northern Beaches who are in need at Christmas.

“It is always challenging especially at this time of the year, to think about all the people in need in our community. Just by helping to pack hampers and distribute them to people hopefully brings some joy to those who need it most." she says.

"Hope is not found in the gift itself, but in those who give," adds Manly Salvation Army officer, captain Louanne Mitchell. “Hope overflows when we give to others, enabling them to experience the transformative blessing that hope brings."

Families in need can gain assistance and Christmas presents for the kids by contacting The Salvation Army New Life Community Church and Centre in Manly on 9977 1304. A free Christmas brunch is also held there on Christmas Day at 9.30am.

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