For the last 12 months, I have been helping out with a soup van in Melbourne on an oncall basis. Whenver the team is short of volunteers, I get a call and come in to help. Having helped out lots of times now, I know my way around the kitchen and know many of the regulars we help out.
One of my good friends has been working at this soup van for many years and has amazing relationships with the people she helps. Just being part of it and watching her has really challenged me.
Probably the most challenging has been to confront my own prejudices and ideas and to see the people we help as real people. I think what has suprised me the most is that its company and real human connection that people are seeking more than food. Never having been great at talking to new people, I have found it has put me right out of my comfort zone to start conversations and maintain them but like anything, the more you practice and try, the better you get.
Its also been challenging because I can’t think about homelessness or disadvantage in the abstract any more. When discussing with people these issues, I now have real faces that pop into my mind.
For anyone thinking about getting involved, I can only urge you to do so. Its a cliche I know but you really do get more out of it than you put in.