Loving the homeless in Ipswich
It all starts with a cuppa...
“Sometimes we can be so overwhelmed and frozen by the problems that people are facing, and we don't know how to respond. But you just have to take one step to show up each Tuesday, have a chat, and offer a warm cuppa." – Sandy Meyers, Riverlifer
Words: Nikki Peck Published: 25 July 2023
It’s the middle of winter for us, so imagine not knowing where you would sleep tonight or when you would next eat. You’ve got one well-worn jacket, no blankets, and you’re battling through a sickness that just won’t go away.
This is a very common story for hundreds of people who don’t have a home in Ipswich, which is just a short drive from our church building.
But for a group of volunteers here at Riverlife, it’s a reality they want to change.
For the last 14 years, a food van called Helping Hands Queensland has been heading out on Tuesday nights to serve those who are doing it tough on Ipswich’s streets.
Over the years, we’ve had various volunteers from Riverlife help this amazing ministry in some way, including Girls’ Brigade, Kids Church, the Sewing Group, Know Your Bible Ladies Group, the Worship Team, Life Groups, and the Community Choir.
Helping Hands began in 2009, originally set up by Vince Ford and Adam East, who were part of the old Kenmore Baptist Church, and they’ve since passed on the ministry to other leaders.
The Meyers family – Sandy, Jon, Amy and Bailey – have been involved. “It’s been challenging and touching,” Sandy shares, “and it’s really shaped our hearts to serve those who so desperately need to know they’re loved.”
“We are a team of people from many walks of life, who volunteer on Tuesday nights to help anyone needing support or doing it tough,” Sandy says. “The van visits four different locations around Ipswich every week. Last year, there were around 278,000 homeless seeking help in Australia.”
Helping Hands is there to help the homeless, those living in hostels or low rental areas, those with disabilities, those coming out of prison, alcoholics, drug addicts, or anyone who is lonely, isolated, and needing friendship. The van pulls up and is open to anyone in need.
“Above all else, we seek to be Jesus’ hands and feet to everyone we meet,” Sandy says. “The key for us is building relationships and journeying along with our friends. Over the years, we’ve built such precious friendships and trust with those we serve.”
“The bonus is we also provide drinks, food (non-perishables, fresh fruit & veg, bread & pastries), toiletries, blankets and sleeping bags. We bring music and worship into the dark and cold nights, which is always a lovely treat for all as we change the atmosphere.”
“Sometimes we can be so overwhelmed and frozen by the problems that people are facing, and we don’t know how to respond. But you just have to take one step to show up each Tuesday, have a chat, and offer a warm cuppa. It’s such a blessing, both to our friends on the street, and to the volunteers,” she says.
As you’d imagine, the stories of those who are homeless can be difficult to hear. Many have endured deep trauma and heart-breaking situations.
Sandy shares: “Sometimes we walk alongside those threatening to commit suicide on a given night, and we cry alongside them, and pray as appropriate to help get them through the night. We’ve called ambulances on several occasions, such as when we found a friend unresponsive in their room. We’ve given out art materials to several friends to encourage their passion for drawing and art.”
“We’ve journeyed alongside a friend who has been recovering from hip surgery, taking food to his room. We’ve met single mums and their children who are so thankful for weekly support.”
“To have the opportunity to listen to people’s stories and be invited into their lives, to pray for the tough things they’re dealing with, is incredible. And it’s a privilege,” Sandy shares.
A big thank you to the Meyers family and the many, many other Riverlife volunteers who have served this ministry over the years.
We especially want to thank the Kids Ministry families and the Sewing Group, who have spent this last term collecting food and sewing items for those in need.
If you want to support Helping Hands, which is one of Riverlife’s ReachOut partners, here are some ways you can help:
- Collect blankets or sleeping bags
- Donate non-perishables, like cans (soup, baked beans, spag, tuna, fruit & veg), noodles, pasta, rice, easy pasta sauces, small cereal boxes, condiments, long life milk, and new/unused toiletries
- Volunteer once a month (or more)
- Bake some biscuits or slices that we can share around for a treat
- Donate financially