A final word from Sue

By the time you read this I will be retired, watching Days of Our Lives and enjoying the soft centre chocolates, well maybe not quite.

My farewell last Friday was a wonderful occasion, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would like to thank Glenda, Robyn and Judy for all their hard work. It was a strange feeling knowing that things were happening around me but I didn’t know what was happening. A first for me at SJC. I would also like to thank everyone for their kind words and well wishes.

SJC is the most fantastic organisation. We do things on the smell of an oily rag but with your help and the help of our friends at Anglicare, we actually help more than three thousand of our fellow
Canberrans each year. These days we provide enough non perishable food for three to four days which is a significant amount of food. We also provide our families with some meat and our friends at Oz Harvest provide us with lots and lots of fresh fruit and veg each week. All that is really fantastic but the really important part of this ministry is that the Volunteers are non-judgemental and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Most times I am glad that we don’t receive Government funding. I think it makes us more resourceful and makes us very careful of every cent we receive, providing a good outcome for our clients without worrying about the numbers we have helped, although most of the large organisations are pretty impressed with what we achieve.

My farewell also reminded me about the two Canberras. I had the opportunity of having Christian parents, a good education, and I was always encouraged to be a Volunteer and give back to the community. This week I met a young couple who had had none of those advantages. They are trying to make a go of things, but the very young woman is pregnant. I think the young man is illiterate and the young woman’s reading skills are not very advanced. They have trouble budgeting so life is going to be tough for them, but it is also going to be hard for their new offspring. Who is going to read to him, help him with his homework? I am not saying that he won’t be loved, but he will be behind the eight ball when he goes to School.

Thank you for your support.  There has not been a day in the last nearly eight years when I haven’t wanted to be the Director of St John’s Care.  It has been a privilege.  Please continue to support this fantastic organisation.

Stuart will be starting on Monday.  I wish him well and I am sure that his stewardship of SJC will continue to provide a wonderful service to our Canberra community.

My wish list for this week: Children’s Toothpaste and brushes, small tins of fruit.

Many Thanks

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[Archive] The Two Canberras

July 19 2015

Two Canberras: the one that we all know and love and the one that our clients have to endure.

Today Stuart, the new Director of St John’s Care, and I were having our handover, and as part of the handover we had an enjoyable afternoon tea with the Volunteers.  It was so lovely to have so many of them together, they are all fantastic people and it is always a joy to spend time with them.  The room was lovely and warm and we had lots of wonderful goodies to eat.


At about three pm I noticed that there was a young woman outside the room who was looking fairly desperate.  By this stage SJC had been closed for an hour.   So I went out to have a chat with her.   She apologised for the lateness of her visit, but she was desperate.  She had been supporting her oldest son in the court during the day and his case had just finished, unfortunately not well for the son.  She looks after her disabled 21 year old son and her three young children aged ten, nine and soon to be eight.

She had no food left in the house to feed the family.    She had come straight from the Courts, so she was wearing her best clothes.   It was twelve degrees with a wicked wind and all she was wearing was a thin cotton shirt.   I asked her if she had a warm coat in the car but the answer was negative.  Thanks to my friend Bill, who organised for ten boxes of the most beautiful brand new warm coats to be delivered to SJC, that problem was soon fixed.   It has been a joy to have the coats on a rack in the foyer so that the clients can try them on etc.   For many it has been like Christmas.  These are very expensive coats.

While Margot was getting some food for the client I had the privilege of talking with Mary.  I noticed that she was on the Parenting Payment and asked her why she was not receiving Carer’s Allowance because she was looking after her disabled son.  She said that she has been trying to change it but was having problems with Centrelink.   She was also concerned that her youngest child was about to turn eight, and when that happens she will be changed to Newstart Allowance , which means that she will lose $150 per fortnight and will be expected to look for a job.    She knows she will not be able to manage.

She just looked at me in amazement and asked – how would she ever find a job?   She is in her mid-forties, has never held a job before and is illiterate.   She has no top teeth and only a few  bottom teeth and she still has to look after her disabled son, and has three young children still at School.  I have asked her to come back and see us early next week.   Hopefully, but no promises,  we may be able to convince Centrelink that she should be on a different payment. I think that she was relieved that there was someone who understood her situation and wanted to help her

The other Canberra.

My wish list for this week: Shampoo, Conditioner, children’s toothpaste and brushes
(or donate online)

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[Archive] No food doesn’t just mean hunger

July 5 2015

Just following up on Zack’s wonderful Pew Sheet last week.  He has been out to Bimberi this week to visit Mary.  She is still positive and is looking forward to starting with the Hairdresser after her release.   And we have to say thank you to the Hairdresser for giving this struggling young person a chance.  Zack is now in America for the next couple of weeks.  He is representing Australia in the World Gridiron Competition.  Naturally he has set up support systems and I was in contact with some of them today making sure that everything is running smoothly.  Mary is still happy with the world and thankfully off the ‘ice’.

At the moment SJC is a little short of Volunteers: Retirement, European Summer and Passports – a lethal combination for anyone who is trying to fill a Roster in Canberra in winter. 

I only have three weeks left to make you aware that there are two Canberras.  The one that you and I know, good housing, heating in winter, a car so that we can visit the wonderful attractions we host like the War Memorial, the National Library, and so many more wonderful icons.   I love Canberra but there is a hard side to Canberra.


Today, because we were short of Volunteers, I was allowed to spend a little time on the floor.  I guess there were lots of things that I should have been doing, getting the job ready for Stuart to take over from me, but what I will miss the most when I leave is the time I spend with the clients.

The first woman I saw has escaped from a Domestic Violence situation.  At the moment she and her young son, he has just turned eight, are living in a safe house, but they are finding it very difficult to manage financially.  Her son is still attending his old School so each morning and afternoon they both have to travel back to his old school.    I know it doesn’t sound financially draining but it is.  Because Fred has turned eight she has also been changed from the Sole Parenting Payment to Newstart allowance.  In other words she has just lost approximately $150 a fortnight.  Very hard when you are on a fixed income.

This was the first time that she had ever had to ask for Welfare.    We had a great chat, I think she was pleased that she could talk to someone about her situation.  Eventually I asked her what type of food they would like.  She preferred to have non processed foods, so thanks to our Oz Harvest friends we had plenty of fresh fruit and Vegetables for her to choose from and we were able to provide her with some bread, margarine and meat and lots of things for Fred’s lunches.    She was so relieved with the food I was able to give her, so I asked why.  They had run out of money and she had not been able to buy bus tickets or food for school lunches, so Fred had not been to School for the past few days.

No excuse now, Fred has Bus Tickets and food.  You are good people, thank you for your support.

My wish list for this week: Children’s and Adult toothpaste and brushes (or donate online).

Many Thanks

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[Archive] Guest author: Zack Bryers

From Zack Bryers, the Youthcare Youth Worker:

A few months ago I received a referral for a 14 year old girl who we will call Mary.  Mary was heavily addicted to ice and had a reputation of heavy drug use and prostitution. Her father had raised Mary and her three siblings by himself because the mother is a drug addict.  

Mary was an extremely hard person to find, she was missing for weeks at a time. After a couple of months I found her. Mary had been caught shoplifting and had been locked up. I decided to organise a visit and introduce myself.  


When I walked into the visitation room Mary was pacing around the room with anger. We started talking and what came across to me was a very smart, intelligent young girl who had been corrupted by the streets. I was able a bond with Mary and eventually I asked her what her dream job was. She wanted to be a hairdresser. Mary made a deal with me, if I could find an opportunity for her to work towards becoming a hairdresser she would go back to school, go back home and fly straight.

Eventually I was able to find somewhere that would take a chance on her. Walking her to the interview she was shaking with nerves. We went through some breathing exercises and talked about confidence. While waiting for the interview Mary said to me “What if they don’t like me? What if they say no?”  I said to her “Well if they say no, then we will go next door  and then the place next to that until someone says yes!” with that her confidence grew. She managed to get the job and was due to start the next week.


Mary then told me she had had a fight with her Dad and broken bail conditions.   Mary was going to be sent back to Bimberi. Mary talked with me about how she wanted to run because she didn’t want to go back. I told her that if she really wanted to turn her life around she needed to start her job, she agreed; but in order to start the job she needed to serve her punishment as soon as possible, she reluctantly agreed. That night I dropped her off and Mary promised me that she would hand herself in the next morning. Sadly, the police turned up early the next morning depriving her of that chance. She will be locked up for the next month.  

Fortunately her new work place is still willing to have her. Talking with Mary she is very positive, she is aware that no one forced her to break her bail condition; that was a choice that she made. Mary is looking forward to getting out and starting her job, going back to school and making new, healthier friends.

Often in this work there are very few happy endings, often they will stop being contactable lost in a world of drugs and crime. Sometimes they will abuse you. But every now and then, you will work with a young person who makes it all worthwhile.

Sue’s wish list for this week: more Zacks, shampoo, washing up liquid and laundry powder
(or donate online to St John’s Care or Youthcare Canberra)

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Christmas is coming

As Christmas is just around the corner, I thought that this Pew Sheet should be a happy one, but frankly I have found the week quite depressing.  The number of people seeking support from St John’s Care is just so constant, no it is not constant it is increasing.  Two of people we have seen this week were former clients and have not needed our help for many years.

On a nice note, both of them were absolutely gobsmacked by our new premises and congratulated us on the ambiance of the building.  We are very proud of the extension and if you haven’t seen it, please give us a ring in the New Year and book a time.  Happy to open on the weekend for groups.

Back to the clients:  the first woman hadn’t been to see us for four years, she is now in a stable relationship and has four children aged from fifteen to fifteen months.  She had forgotten about the Present Room and was just after emergency food, the Present Room was a real bonus.    Unfortunately her partner, who is the Bread Winner, was injured in a social sporting match.  He has used all his sick leave, holiday leave and is now on Leave Without Pay.  She is sure that it won’t be too long before he is back at work, but in the meantime they are struggling.  It is so nice to be able to help, but it just shows how difficult it is for some families.  The slightest blip on the radar and the family lose their sense of direction, it is just so hard.

The second family have had car problems.   They have three children who are all involved in sporting groups etc and as we all know, a car is basically a necessity for most families in Canberra.  So all of a sudden the Christmas Budget is shot, no presents for the kids and the immediate need is food.  It was great to be able to help with both food and presents, but it is a good reminder to me about how fragile how many of our families in the Community are.

It is strange to most of us to be so short of money.  If we had to pay for car repairs we would be able to charge them to our MasterCard/Visa card and pay them off over several months, if that was required.  But if you don’t have a Credit Card and you have no savings what do you do?   You don’t buy food for the family and Christmas Presents are a thing of the past.  It is a hard time for so many families.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support for this year.  You have done so much, every time you put something in the basket at Church you are helping someone survive.

My wish list for this week: Pasta Sauce and large nappies (12 KG plus or Pullups).
How can you help?

Thank you and a Happy and Safe Christmas



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An unexpected email

After my concerns with a client who was imploding last week, I felt much encouraged when I received this email:

“Hello Team at St John’s Care Reid,

My Name is Harry and in the earlier part of the year when financially in dire straits you guys were fabulous in helping me with some telstra vouchers for an exorbitant runaway bill and food stuffs and a chat and cuppa now and then,

Life is progressing up and I am getting a bit more work which is easing the financial burden of The DSP a fair bit but anyhow to the point, I would really love to come and work for as long as you guys needed me on the XMAS day Community lunch,

I am handy in the kitchen and willing to do whatever is necessary so that I can put back a bit of some of the great support I have received on my journey back to better health,

I can be reached via return email and as said really keen to help out on the day with a bit of whatever needs to be done…”

It was lovely to receive this vote of thanks and I look forward to meeting with Harry on Christmas Day.

Once again we have had an amazingly busy week:

  • In the first five days in December we helped 110 clients.  An average of 22 clients a day.  Our norm is 16 a day so this is a big increase.  It might not seem to be a problem but it means that in one week we have given away: 110 bottles of Pasta Sauce, 110 plus litres of milk, we always try to give extra to large families, 110 tins of fish, baked beans, spaghetti, fruit, soup, tinned meat, pasta, tubes of toothpaste, toilet paper and soap and the list just goes on and on. It is a huge increase
  • Friday Lunch we served 135 meals. This week it was a BBQ and Pavlova Dessert.    For this meal we used 160 sausages, 120 hamburgers and 100 small steaks, 8 lettuces, 10kg of tomato and many other salads.  It was fun but hard work.    We are not funded for these lunches but they are a really important part of our community.
  • This week we opened the Present Room on Tuesday.  First day we assisted 47 families, today it was 41.  In the two days we have been in operation so far we have provided gifts for 222 children.

There is such an increase in need in our Community, it is quite mind blowing. The next big gig is Christmas Day.  Last year we served 380 meals.  What will it be this year???

I really need help on Tuesday 23 or Wednesday 24 December with preparation for the Christmas Lunch: carving hams, cutting the cooked chickens, washing lettuces etc.  Please put your hand up if you can help.  I can be contacted on 62487771 or 0424529492.

My wish list for this week: tinned fruit, pasta sauce and longlife full cream milk. How can you help?

Many Thanks



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One of the hardest things

One of the sad aspects of my job is watching people implode.

For the past five years I have been supporting a young man with food and just being there for him.  He is an interesting young man who grew up in one of the rougher areas of Sydney.  He is not physically large and he told me that when he started school, because he was a little tacka, he was picked on and physically abused.

He remembers the beatings he received, and then when he became a little bigger, he became the thug and he picked on the little kids. That was the start of his career as a petty crim.

He is not sure when the drugs started.  He had always been a user of alcohol and tobacco, probably from his early teens, or before.  He remembers smoking grass when he was about thirteen, as he said to me it was about him being an important person in the neighbourhood.

As an older teenager he was caught, charged and convicted of being a not very nice person.  Once again he told me of the abuse he received in the prison system because he was very short and slight.

After he was released from prison he moved to Canberra to make a new clean life.  No drugs, no crime, he just wanted to be an ordinary person.  Over the years I have spent a lot of time with him, I am not a counsellor, but he just wanted someone to talk to.  He was doing really well and I think that he was clean for about three years.

Last year he started to play around with drugs again, big time.   His Father died in August 2013.

He went home for the funeral but his family have decided that enough is enough, and he is no longer welcome at his family home.  I appreciate where the family is coming from, they have every right to throw up their hands and be rid of this nuisance in their life, but what about their son, brother etc.

I think he will be a statistic fairly soon.  He is using heavily, he is now homeless, not a good prognosis.

I don’t think I could have done anything better, I listened to him, I supported him in trying to establish a lawn mowing business, and I was there when he wanted to talk.  Sometimes the damage is done very early in life.  I know it sounds silly but I regard him as a friend and I think he regards me as one of the few friends he has left.  It is very sad.

If anyone could help out in the Present Room over the next two weeks could they please give me a ring on 6248 7771 or 0424 529 492

My wish list for this week: Tinned Fruit, Pasta Sauce, Tins of Ham. You can help…

Many Thanks


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A homeless family

Some weeks I struggle for a story.  This week I can’t work out which one I should use.  I have a question “Is this week Homeless Week?”   It’s not but SJC has seen three homeless women and several homeless men.  It is hard when you see so many, I always feel so guilty that we can’t house them but that is not our role.

One of the clients we saw this week is a single Mum with three children aged sixteen, seven and five.  They live in rented accommodation in a Caravan Park.  The Mum works part time and she also receives a Sole Parenting payment from Centrelink.   At the moment she is working increased hours which mean that her Centrelink payment has been reduced drastically and she is finding it very hard to manage.  She is actually not managing, to keep afloat she has had to use all her savings.  She had kept up with her electricity and gas accounts but was having trouble paying her telephone and internet account.

She had not talked about her problems at work but one of her friends asked her why she was no longer going out to lunch with the group, so she told her that she just could not afford to go out.  Thankfully her friend knew about SJC and told her that we could probably be able to help, which of course we did.   We were able to pay the phone bill and she went away with lots of food for her very hungry family.  She was also delighted when she found two pairs of new school shorts in the right colour for her seven year old.  She had also told the Volunteer that she did not know what she was going to do this Christmas.  She was usually well organised by now, but this year she did not know how she was going to buy presents for the children.   She was really gobsmacked when the Volunteer told her about the Christmas Present Room and invited her to return sometime between the 9th and the 19th of December and she could select something for each of the children.  I think that she thought all her Christmases had come at once.

Another client came to us for help with her electricity account.  She is in a private rental and can normally manage but six months ago she was made redundant.  She was so confident that she would be able to get another contract that she has not registered at Centrelink, so she has no income at all.  She has used all her redundancy payment and her savings and for the first time in her life she had to ask for help.   She is housed at this stage but it will not be long before too joins the ranks of the Homeless.

My wish list for this week: Pasta Sauce, Biscuits, Tinned Spaghetti, Toothbrushes for Adults and Children. You can help…

Many Thanks



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Homeless Persons Week

August 10 2014

I know I write a lot about it and probably bore you with the topic, but this week has officially been ‘Homeless Persons” Week, and I have seen so many Homeless people this week, it has been amazing.  


The first woman I saw arrived in Canberra about three months ago.  She grew up in Canberra but moved south to be with her partner, and now has two little children.  When the relationship failed she moved back to Canberra to be near her family.  She can’t live with her mother who has bipolar disorder, so she has been staying with her Dad in a small two bedroom flat.  Only problem is that Dad is an alcoholic who becomes very violent, so for the past four weeks she has been living in her car with a three and four year old.  She has been in contact with First Point but was told she was not eligible.  She is in a really difficult situation, but she is determined that she will get through it.

The second woman is also living in her car.   She is in her mid-forties.  She and her husband have recently separated and as the house is in her husband’s name, she had to move out.  At least the five children are still living with the father.  Her eldest child is twenty three and working, so she is looking at renting a flat in the next couple of weeks and hopefully the mother will be able to live with her.

Yesterday we saw a young Sudanese man who lives in Melbourne.    He has applied for an Entry Visa and is awaiting a decision on his application, so he is not receiving any Centrelink benefits.  He has been waiting for a long time to hear about his application, can he stay or does he have to return to Sudan.  He thought if he came to Canberra he would be able to see the Minister for Immigration, and get an answer.    Unfortunately, he had no money when he arrived so spent the first night sleeping on the streets.   Out of desperation he went to the Centrelink Office in Braddon.  They were not able to help him but ended up contacting us to see if we were able to help out.   Thankfully he was able to spend last night at the Safe Shelter in Braddon and we were able to get him on this morning’s train home to Melbourne.

This morning we saw a father and his teenage daughter.  They are also from Melbourne and came to Canberra to stay with friends.  Unfortunately, the visit did not work out.  There seems to have been some sort of problems in the house and they were evicted in the middle of the night.   When they arrived at our office, they had only the clothes they stood up in, no money and were hungry.   They have accommodation in Melbourne, so the best thing we could do was to give them a one way ticket to Melbourne.  They will be leaving this afternoon.

You never know when you are going to be homeless!

My wish list for this week: Tinned fruit, laundry detergent and washing up liquid. Click here for ways you can help…

Many Thanks


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An unexpected visitor, a big thank you, and an opportunity to help

I don’t think I have ever had two days the same in this job, it is actually not a job, it is a passion.   This morning I had a fellow knock on the door at about 8.  I immediately thought it was a donor dropping off food on the way to work, so I happily opened the door to receive his gifts.  Whoops, he was actually a client wanting support, a client with some major mental health issues.  Thankfully, after a little while he needed to go to the toilet, so I was able to move him from St John’s Care office and open the toilets in the Hall, and not let him back into the Office until I had some support.


Thankfully I saw Margaret arrive, so I rang the Church Office and asked her if she would mind helping out.  She is a really lovely person and was so willing to help.  Our client was a really strange person, his Centrelink Document showed that he is an Aged Pensioner who lives in Kings Cross, Sydney.   When I asked him why he had come to Canberra he was a little evasive, said that at the moment he was staying with some friends and had a job, but he was hungry and needed some food and clothes.

Image source: sbs.com.au

Image source: sbs.com.au

All he wanted was some warm trousers and some warm soup. God is a really important part of St. John’s Care.  The previous evening I had been given some lovely homemade pumpkin soup for the clients.  He enjoyed a bowl of soup and a fresh Bread roll, and Margaret found him a nice warm pair of trousers.  He didn’t want food to take away but he needed a toothbrush and paste.  Not a problem, and he went away happy.


A little later he returned asking if we had any socks.  Yes we can help with that and we did.  During the day he returned about five times, each time just asking for a particular item that we were able to help him with.  I actually think that he was just very lonely and wanted someone to talk to, but definitely a bit strange.


St. John’s Care only operates because of the army of Volunteers who support us and I normally don’t single anyone out for special mention, everyone is so important.  But today I would like to break that rule.  We like to offer some of our clients a frozen nutritious home cooked meal.  It is a really important part of our ministry.  I like to offer them to single Mums who are having a hard time coping and don’t get a break with the cooking.


This week I received an email from my friend Norm to say that he can no longer cook meals for St John’s Care.  He is 84 and is having a few health issues.  Over the past four years, Norm has provided the raw ingredients and cooked over six hundred two person meals for us.   The meals are simple but brilliant and really loved by the clients.  Norm, SJC will really miss your efforts but we thank you for all your love, hard work and generosity.  Love you.


My wish list for this week: More Norms in my life, tinned fruit both large and small, and biscuits.

Many thanks



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