The Warmth of Friendship

Last night a team of 300 Blankets volunteers and I volunteered with the Vinnies soup van. The weather was typical gloomy winter Melbourne night – freezing cold with on-and-off pouring rain. Running into the kitchen to escape from the rain, I was pleasantly greeted with the high spirits and laughter of the wonderful Vinnies volunteers preparing food for the night. The positive energy in the room blocked out the terrible weather we were about to face.

As mentioned in one of the previous blogs, a lesson learnt on my first outing with the soup vans is that people experiencing homelessness has not only lost a permanent place to call home and their material possessions, but many have lost their families, their friends, their pets, and very quickly life can become lonely. Although we focus on providing the warmth of blankets, we must not forget about the power of the warmth of friendship. So a personal mission of mine, and what is encouraged with our volunteers, is to create mateship when we go out.

The 300 Blankets team was split up with half going to the boarding houses and the other half (myself included) to the streets. I met many people I have had contact with previously and it was wonderful to have a good chat with them as they got a bite to eat and a nice warm soup. And then I met “John” (“John” is a pseudonym to protect his privacy).

Looking cold, wet, and hungry, John approaches with his head down as I was handing out delicious hot food generously donated by Tasty Trucks. Noticing that he required more than just a feed, I attempted to start a conversation. Our small talk eventually turned into a passionate banter about AFL and our love for the Essendon Bombers. It was an incredible moment.

John’s mood and body language from when I first saw him had transformed completely. We were genuinely laughing as we celebrated our great victory against Carlton from the previous week. John opened up about his day and week. It was only until we were interrupted as we had to move to our next location that I realised how long we were talking for and the friendship we had just created. As I was leaving, John excitedly said he will share his notes of this coming week’s game with me when I see him next week. I no longer saw John as a cold, wet and hungry man and I can’t wait to meet up with him next week after we take on the Gold Coast Suns. This is the power of the warmth of friendship.

300 Blankets Vinnies Soup Van Volunteers



  1. Rebecca Delaurence says

    Last night I was privileged to return to the soup van with Warren as part of the 300 blankets contingent, and was this time lucky enough to be joined by two of my wonderful friends, Anita and Cody. After mentioning my first experience of soup van to each of them, I was met with an almost immediate wish to find out how they could be involved, a reassuring sign that my friends were like me in their interest in social awareness. Being able to share the experience with them and see their reaction to the very real and often desperate circumstances faced by those less fortunate was a wonderful thing and something I know we will remember for a long time to come.

    It was a cold and drizzly Melbourne night and that tedious, ‘almost’ rain (the kind that isn’t quite a shower) was as determined to fill up puddles as it was to frizz my hair. I didn’t mind though. Somehow, the production line of buttering bread and the nostalgia conjured by the scent of Vegemite as we packaged up sandwiches, overcame all consideration of vanity.

    I’m convinced that one of the best parts of the volunteering experience is the people you meet, not simply the characters you serve (some eccentric and chatty, others more humble and reserved), but the diverse group of helpers who gather together to give back. From teachers to students, office workers to dedicated members of the Vinnies organisation, the many and varied personalities that fill up those vans are always sure to teach you something new.

    For me the reward of the experience is the reminder that there is good in the world, or rather that there are good people in the world. That you are not alone in your hope to pay something positive forward and that contrary to popular opinion you can make a difference. Sure we can’t all save the world, however I am a big believer that many hands make light work and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It certainly is those little parts put together in a jaggedy jigsaw of kindness that makes the difference. Each unique motivation for giving threads an uplifting tapestry of humanity and compassion, needed to support those experiencing homelessness For many the nature of the environments, those sleeping rough find themselves in and the awkward process of offering them support can seem too confronting or challenging to navigate. Through the soup van experience I have felt more able to contribute in a constructive and safe way than simply acting alone to help strangers in the street.

    At the boarding houses I happened upon a number of gentlemen, most of them more elderly than those I had met some months before. With many over the age of 65, the soup van is a very real lifeline upon which they depend not only for food but, perhaps more importantly for human contact. I came to meet a gentleman by the name of Arthur, he was just strong enough to stand and open his door, but had to return to his chair while we poured him a cordial to add to the growing collection he had amassed on his side table. I was pleased to hear him chuckle when I commented that the green cordial we had poured him made the orange and red cordial cups beside it look like a set of traffic lights. He told us that this coming October will mark twelve years for him living at the boarding house. I can only imagine how many people he has seen come and go over those years. On top of the loneliness I’m sure so many older people face as they age and their friends and family die out, Arthur also had to deal with the instability of a constantly changing living environment. In some respects he had a lot to be thankful for, a roof over his head for one was a small but incredible step above those sleeping in the park. I wondered whether if a park was where he had lived 12 years ago before being offered the room. I wondered whether he had ever had a partner, ever been married or had children and if so where those significant others had gone. I’m sure in time, if I should see him again and he grows comfortable enough to come to know me, I might come to learn more about him. I have a sneaking suspicion he has a few good stories up his sleeve to tell, and surely we can’t let those go to waste.

    Being my second time at the boarding houses, I was able to compare my first experience with this second and upon reflection I can only say that it has further encouraged my initial feelings of thankfulness for the advantages I have been so unconditionally afforded in my own life and probably taken for granted. This was hit home the most for me toward the end of the night when a young man, no more than a year or two either side of my own age turned up at the markets. He didn’t say much and declined the offer of hot food, opting instead for a drink only. It made me wonder what possibly could have happened to this seemingly able bodied young man that was so horrible, that he now found himself on the streets. In that moment I was thankful for every home cooked meal, every pair of socks in winter, every pick up from work, or drop off to school, every packed lunch (even the repetitive sandwiches mum used to make), every ‘hello’ that chimed as I walked in the door at night, even the grind of early mornings that having a job necessitates. Surely this life on the streets could not be the lesser of two evils. If it in fact is for this man, I hope he finds some degree of peace and a way back to a home of sorts soon.

    It struck me so much last night how thankful and dignified so many of those we spoke with and served really were. The genuine appreciation and courteously these people showed was in many cases far superior to that of some people I encounter in my daily life. Whether it be the busy man on my commute to work, who is too pre-occipied with his phone call to stand up for an elderly passenger or the woman that shoves you in her hurry to jump aboard the train.

    I think all too often we get caught up in our own lives. We let the ways of the world get the better of us and carry the weight of it on our shoulders. ‘Poor me’ we complain. We compare and compete. We hunger for more, sometimes far beyond our share or entitlement. Without realizing we grow jealous and greedy and become selfish. We forget the importance of manners, respect and kindness. The material becomes more alluring that the ethereal. Amongst days spent seeing 6 figure budgets pass across our desks and dollar signs next to everything, it is nice to do something where monetary value and reward is irrelevant.

    A wise person once told me that if we all gathered up our problems and put them in piles for the world to see, we’d be guaranteed to have a smaller pile than someone else. I like to think last night’s experience reminds me about how little my pile realy is, and gives me the perspective to acknowledge my struggles, but not dwell on them or inflate their significance.

    By approaching the soup van for food, the homeless are entering into a relationship of respect and trust. They know that it is a safe and welcoming light on a dark night. It is a place for community in a landscape void of the shelter we would normally associate with a community. In this exchange we all become equal. Matters of money make little sense and no ones job, home, family or lack there of, makes them any better or worse than another.

    Pity has no place here, only a genuine acknowledgement of the human condition and our shared experience of it.

  2. Stefni says

    This week I had the privilege of delivering food and drinks to housings, and in particular.. The elderly men’s housings.
    I got the chance to meet a popular man, who was no stranger to sharing his stories. For security, I’ll call him Frank. The fact that he could trust strangers into his home showed not only his confidence in humanity, but his friendly nature. He wanted to show me his photos on his wall, and we got to talking about pool. A bit of a pool hall junkie back in his day, I believe. He had so many trophies, medals, and even pool stick chalks on his table. I asked if I could photograph his home, and he was happy for me to do so.. But I think he was camera shy and didn’t want photos of himself. He talked to us three volunteers about football, and his wife. His latest activities, and places he’d been.
    As much as I wanted to stay and chat, we had to leave and make sure the other residents had food.
    Later on in the night, we would deliver the rest of the food to our last stop in Victoria markets. During ride, I would smile to myself thinking about some jokes Frank was cracking, and his warm aura. At Victoria Markets, I recognised a Brazilian man from my soup van night last week. It was nice to see a recognise faces.
    I had a small conversation with another lad who was asking for tomato sauce with his ham and cheese sandwich. It reminded me of sandwiches my mum would make for us when we had picnics.
    He enlightened me with a new taste for spread sandwiches, and I’ve yet to try it and let him know my thoughts.
    I made friends..
    And that’s worth my time I make for volunteer work.

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