The Salvos 100 Thousand Meals campaign gives people more than a full belly at Christmas—it also gives them a place to belong, writes Jessica Morris.
Walking into The Salvation Army’s Melbourne 614 Christmas party is akin to entering a relative’s birthday bash.
The tables are crowded with people of all ages, and their voices are punctuated with laughter. At each guest’s seat is a plate filled with delicious holiday food—turkey, roast vegies and gravy. It’s being gobbled up happily with the knowledge that soon afterwards will come a generous serving of plum pudding or pavlova.
Midway through the celebration, someone stands to their feet and a rousing rendition of ‘Joy to the World’ begins. Santa Claus comes out, and soon all the children are gathered around his feet as they eagerly await their new Christmas gift. Their eyes are shining. Everyone looks happy, alive and loved, the way
we all imagine our ideal Christmas Day.
For the past 130 years, the Salvos have delivered the gift of a Christmas meal to millions of people across the world. In Australia alone, they provide 100,000 meals every week, and this only escalates at Christmas. That’s why, this year, they’re asking for a helping hand. Well, it’s more the click of a button really.
The 100 Thousand Meals campaign gives Australia the opportunity to partner with the Salvos by donating $10 for a single Christmas meal. And it’s not a simple toasted sandwich; it’s a beautiful two- or three-course meal, fit for the table of any family gathering.
“We’re trying to cover the cost of meal provision around Christmas. This will be our fifth year of doing this digital campaign—it was 10,000 meals and we exceeded our target last year. We aligned our target with how many meals the Salvos provide in a week; that’s why we changed the name to 100 Thousand Meals,” said Melanie King, digital marketing manager for the Salvos’ campaign.
“People come to the Salvos for items of necessity, but the meal gives us the opportunity to start a conversation and find out what else is going on. It’s very much an ‘in road’ to develop a relationship with someone who probably needs assistance across a number of different levels.”
When the Salvos say their Christmas lunch is open for everyone, they mean it. At 614, people fill the Bourke Street building, and they are comprised of clients, staff, volunteers, friends, family, the elderly and international students.
Basically, if you are alone at Christmas or see this community as your family, you are welcome here. And that’s the beauty of every one of the 100,000 meals provided to the public over Christmas by Salvos all over the country—it’s not just the gift of a full belly, it’s the provision of a wonderful community, accompanied all the trimmings.
Scotty came to 614 three years ago, after escalating rent prices and a redundancy left him out on the streets. After the Salvos provided him with temporary accommodation, they plugged him into their Magpie Nest (a partnership with the Collingwood Football Club) program, and today he has a permanent place to live, volunteers regularly and is actively looking for work.
“If I didn’t go to the meal at the Salvos, I probably wouldn’t have had a Christmas meal to eat or go to.”
~ Scotty, Melbourne 614 client
Like many people who join the Salvos for a Christmas meal, Scotty didn’t have anyone to celebrate the holidays with. Now he’s found family at 614 that has changed his life.
“I’ve been to three Christmas meals. If I didn’t go to the meal at the Salvos, I probably wouldn’t have had a Christmas meal to eat or go to,” he said.
“I’d never been on the streets before in my life. I felt like no-one wanted me. But there was a door opened for me at the Salvos and I followed that path.”
Just as every family celebration is different, each Christmas meal has its nuances. Some Salvo churches serve guests like they’re at a restaurant. They have a selection of yummy foods and drinks to choose from, and are invited to join the Christmas Day service before the meal.
Other Salvos’ social services hold their meals weeks in advance. They string up lights and decorations, have guest performers and provide children with a gift that has been generously donated by the public. Many people come through the doors for the first time simply in need of a good feed, and many others attend because it has become a holiday tradition, and that includes the proverbial army of volunteers who make the meals happen.
“It’s the people I meet that I enjoy the most,” says Sharon, a volunteer at her local Salvos. She runs their café three days a week and, aside from providing clients with meals, also gives them information on the other services the Salvos provide.
“Many of them aren’t what you think about homeless people—they’re just normal people and it’s great to have a chat with them. You get people from all walks of life that end up homeless for all sorts of reasons,” she says.
As employees at 614, Adam and Matt have had a similar experience with clients, and they know Christmas is the busiest time of year.
“I’m the hospitality coordinator so I run the kitchen and facilitate the volunteers who are in there,” said Adam.
“We make anywhere up to 600 meals a day. We do a big Christmas lunch a couple of weeks out from Christmas. That’s a three-course meal for everyone. We invite everyone we’re connected to. We don’t discriminate, we let anyone and everyone come in.”
Matt is 614’s café coordinator year round, and thrives on the organised chaos of the season. For him, his work is all about the end goal: giving people a place to belong.
“There was one time we had a mother escaping domestic violence, and she said this was the first time she felt safe and celebrated Christmas in a long time,” he said.
What does Christmas lunch mean to you? For people like Scotty it is now a celebration of belonging, new beginning and hope for a better future. Not bad for $10, wouldn’t you say?
To donate, volunteer or find a Salvo Christmas lunch near you, visit 100thousandmeals.org.au. Call 13SALVOS for more information.