“There is something about helping others that is good for the soul.”
Five years ago, I delivered my first hamper to a single mum who lived in a modest brick home in the western suburbs of Sydney. Like so many of the people I see in my work in family therapy, my client had a tumultuous history and now struggled to pay the rent and put food on the table. She had no money to buy Christmas presents for her four kids who were all under the age of 12 and asked for help. I reached out to a few community organisations including Hillsong CityCare and we collected food, toys and gift cards. On the day I dropped off the hampers, my client greeted me at the door. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I handed over the toys for her kids: Lego, Transformers and My Little Ponies. Her eyes lit up and then she said, almost sheepishly, “You have done too much.”
After that, I continued collecting hampers, which I stored in my shed, so that whenever I heard of a family in need, I was prepared. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t ask them to fill in complicated paperwork. I dropped the hampers off with a smile and asked how they were going. It soon became apparent it wasn’t so much about the hampers, which were helpful and useful, but it was about connection. Our connection led to open discussions. Families who had their basic needs met often agreed to get further help. One of the families I visited had a history of domestic and family violence. Eventually, I was able to put them in touch with other services. They agreed to counselling and now the kids are fully restored to their care. Over the past few years, I have seen lots of clients restored. These hampers have been a tool to engage with vulnerable people and build rapport. By giving food to someone who needs it or by checking in a neighbour, we are outworking the gospel. It’s all about being kind. Showing humanity. I have a joke with my clients. We chat. We laugh. At the end of the day, they are people like us. It’s not about reaching down; it’s about reaching out. That’s what Jesus did.
In 2020, a life altering event changed the trajectory of my life. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was a Saturday early in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, when I noticed a stitch in my side that wouldn’t go away. At first, I thought I had been lifting too many hampers. A few days later, I found myself at a local hospital in front of a doctor who told me those three words you never want to hear: “You have cancer”. My dad died from bowel cancer, so I knew this was serious. After a big operation to remove most of my bowel, I had chemotherapy and made some significant life changes.
Although my financial position has changed, my passion for outreach hasn’t. There’s something about helping others that is good for the soul. Throughout my treatment, I continued to deliver hampers. At times, I felt really sick and my clients were worried about me, but I refused to quit. We deliver about 100 hampers every week. Hillsong City Care provides hampers that contain staples such as pasta, sauce, teabags, and fresh produce. More recently, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) has been added. When needed, we add sensory items to the hampers for families who have children on the spectrum. We’ve also included comfort foods like chocolate, which has been particularly welcome during lockdown. During this pandemic, we work with families who have Covid and who are stuck at home. They can’t get to the shops and on-line deliveries can take days. Our hampers and the connection they bring, helps get them through. I make sure the recipients know that community groups and church organisations donate the items. It’s a simple equation really. It’s all about loving God and helping people and for as long as I’m on this earth, I will continue to do that.
Postscript: After major surgery and seven months of chemotherapy, Jamie was given the ‘all clear.’
From March 2020 to present, CityCare (funded through the generosity of Hillsong Church) has been able to provide over 27,000 hampers to vulnerable families and individuals within our communities – that equates to over 780,000 meals. CityCare has partnered with a number of local partners to outwork this response effectively and get the hampers where they are most desperately needed.
All hampers are delivered in accordance with Covid safety practices and in line with directions from NSW health.