A few weeks ago good friends Siobhán and Jacquie gave their sons an experience to treasure. Luca and Mackenzie together with their mums volunteered to cook a meal for about forty people at the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney, one of Kids Giving Back charity partners. We love being able to offer families this opportunity each school holidays. Siobhán shares their experience:

“We participated in this program through Kids Giving Back, a wonderful organisation that provide opportunities for children of all ages to do volunteer work in the community.

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I used to volunteer for the ASC few years ago, doing pro bono design work and helping out with activities such as face painting when the Centre had large get-togethers involving families. Like most parents, however, since having children I’ve become increasingly time-poor, so it was wonderful to find a program that enables parents to volunteer with their children.

Jacquie and I were initially daunted by the thought of cooking for such a large group, particularly when clients at the Asylum Seekers Centre come from 52 different countries around the world and some have specific dietary requirements, such as being vegetarian or strictly halal. We were also informed that around fifty per cent of the people who turn up for lunch each day are currently homeless or about to become homeless, and that for many, lunch at the ASC is the only meal they will eat all day and sometimes the only decent meal they will eat all week.

As such, we felt a big responsibility to ensure that there would be something to appeal to everyone, that the food we prepared would be healthy, nutritious and filling, and that we would have enough food that people would also be able to take away leftovers.

We had been asked to provide one meat-based and one vegetarian main. We decided on a Moroccan beef tagine and an Indian lentil dahl, as we wanted to ensure that both mains were high in protein. We also prepared an entree, several side dishes, including salads and bread, and a couple of large fruit platters for dessert.

Our boys were keen to make something for people to take away, so they helped bake a few dozen batches of biscuits, which they carefully and lovingly placed into paper bags and handed out at the end of the day. The four of us spent a day preparing all the food in Jacquie’s kitchen, then transported everything to the ASC on the morning of the lunch, ready to be served when people arrived soon after midday.

Initially, we were wondering if we’d made too much food, but it became quickly apparent that the people who arrived for lunch were very hungry and nothing went to waste.

The people we served were from many different parts of the world, and every one of them was gracious and genuinely grateful for the meal we’d prepared. One young woman who had arrived too late for lunch, but for whom Jac packaged up some food to take home, offered her a warm and heartfelt ‘God bless you’, and another lovely man who Luca had served food to came up to us afterwards, thanked us sincerely and gave Luca a gentle kiss on his forehead. Several people stayed on to help us clear the tables and wash up. It was truly humbling to witness the kindness and appreciation of the people we’d cooked for, and the people we met made a strong impression on us and our boys as well.

Jacquie and I felt incredibly proud as we watched our two five year olds helping out on the day. They volunteered to set the tables and laid the cutlery and serviettes out with so much care, though each setting was uniquely different – some people ended up with two upside-down forks and one spoon, others with one knife and a serviette, but I guess it’s the thought that counts! 🙂

The boys also helped serve the food. Luca was in charge of offering people fresh coriander on their dahl and Mackenzie was responsible for offering people toasted almonds with their tagine. Without any prompting, they were both careful to ensure that they hadn’t missed a single person, and also walked around afterwards offering everyone second helpings of food.

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of the current political situation regarding asylum seekers and refugees, but there are many practical ways that everyday Australians can get involved in helping. There is also enormous value in meeting asylum seekers face-to-face and offering welcome, as the government and much of the media de-humanise people seeking asylum to such a degree that so many Australians fail to appreciate that they are people like us, just not as fortunate to have been born into such a lucky country.

Jacquie, Mackenzie, Luca and I have committed to preparing and serving lunch at the Asylum Seekers Centre each school holidays, and are also planning to increase our involvement with the ASC in other ways as well.

The meal we prepared for the Asylum Seekers Centre through Kids Giving Back was a richly rewarding experience and one which we hope will instil in our children the values we hope they will grow up with – compassion, empathy, gratitude, respect for difference and an understanding of the importance of giving back to the community.”