As Australia celebrates National Volunteer Week (May 16 – 22) , it’s nice to reflect on Southport Parish’s Pat Williamson, for whom age is no barrier.
The 95 year old still continues to help out with “Angel’s Kitchen” in spite of significant hearing and sight difficulties.
Through 27 years of involvement with the street outreach, it is only in the past two years she has stopped physically attending the Lawson Street Community Centre on Sunday afternoons.
She now assists mid-week by allowing her garage to be used as a storage space for consumables, and by counting out the necessary cups and plastic containers needed for the weekend’s serving.
Angel’s Kitchen started at Southport in 1992, when the local parish priest noticed an uptick in the number of people knocking at the door for food.
A breakfast, prepared by a few parishioners, commenced in early 1993 and consisted mainly of sandwiches and tea being served after the 7.00am Mass.
It soon became evident breakfast was inadequate, so some key parishioners, Beverly Power, Noela Evans and Alma Berrigan, stepped forward to provide a hot meal on Sundays.
Different times were trialled before a 4.30 pm afternoon sitting was settled upon.
Pat Williamson joined them, along with Maria Wilson, in 1998, and soon found herself cleaning pots and pans and wiping down tables after the visitors had eaten.
Their mission was simply defined: “to provide a nutritious home-cooked meal each Sunday at no charge to needy people.”
Then, as now, “needy” can cover a multitude of situations; from loneliness to economic and other crisis difficulties, mental health or other health problems.
The other thing that is remains unchanged over the years is that no questions are ever asked, and anyone who comes to the door is given something to eat.
Pat attributes her spirit of volunteerism to her parents.
Her father was involved with Rotary for many years, and her mother volunteered with the Red Cross and the Catholic Women’s League.
“I think it was just bred in me that you’re either helping out or you’re doing something for others,” Pat said.
“I also think that this is a way of doing God’s work, by helping people.”
“When you pitch in and see how life can be improved for those who are disadvantaged, and then sometimes things turn around for them, that gives you a great satisfaction.
In the years prior to COVID-19 Pat also organized two sightseeing bus trips per year to various places of interest and beauty, with the money raised (sometimes as much as $800) going to Angels Kitchen.
While Pat occupies one end of the volunteer spectrum the service also counts a two and a half year-old among its ranks.
The youngster is being reared by a grandparent due to the difficult but no longer rare circumstance of grandparents bringing up their grandchildren.
Under the watchful eye of her grandmother, she helps one of the Angel’s Kitchen Supervisors, George Bent, to sort through the fruit and veg provided by Harbour Town Discount Fruit Barn.
The duo proudly number among the more than 10,000 strong base of volunteers who serve across the Archdiocese, mainly parish based, but also within Centacare and Brisbane Catholic Education.
It remains a point of pride for Angel’s Kitchen that a small number of former patrons are always amongst the volunteers, helping to pay forward the kindness they previously enjoyed.
On any given Sunday Angel’s Kitchen has around 10-12 volunteers rostered on and provide meals for a group that can range anywhere from 70 – 120 people.
Due to COVID-19 Angel’s Kitchen is now organized into two teams of volunteers who work alternate Sundays.
They are unique in being one of the few social services that did not close during lockdowns.
If anything, COVID-19 improved the service for patrons, for whilst sit down meals have ceased, the take away offerings of bread, fruit, dairy, clothes and toiletries packs have only increased*.
Over 30 years, it is estimated that Angel’s Kitchen has served 135,000 meals to patrons, at an average of 100 meals per weekend.
When asked if ministry brings out the type of people mentioned in its moniker, Pat Williamson smiles gently and laughs.
“No, Haven’t seen any angels in my time there, but some of them are getting pretty close.
“There’s a lot of good helpers down there, and happily that is now including some younger people,” she said.